Council taxi bill tops ��m

TAXPAYERS shelled out nearly �600,000 on taxi journeys of between two and 120 miles long to take students to schools last year.

A Freedom Of Information inquiry has shown that North Somerset Council paid for the journeys 28,082 times between April 2010 and April 2011 to places as far afield as Frome, Dorset, the Somerset Levels, Taunton and Yeovil.

The council says transport to schools outside of North Somerset is necessary because a number of the children have special educational needs that need to be met elsewhere.

But about two thirds of the taxi journeys were taking pupils just a short distance down the road to mainstream schools within the district.

The total cost of the taxis last year stood at �595,634 and the unitary authority says figures from previous years are not available.

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These revelations come at a time when the council is slashing �47million from its spending, with all departments expected to make savings over the next four years.

The shortest taxi journey a child took last year was two miles from their home and taxi trips varied from daily to weekly or once or twice a term.

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The council’s Freedom of Information team insists the unitary authority uses a large number of minibuses and coaches to take students to North Somerset schools, but on the majority of taxi journeys a car was used.

A spokesman said: “We first determine transport entitlement, and then look at what pupils we have to transport and where they live.

“This then helps us plan routes and appropriate vehicles for the journey.

“We also look at cost and sometimes two taxis may be cheaper than a minibus due to the wide spread of pupils to be picked up.

“Transport entitlement is where the walking route is two miles or more for primary aged pupils or three miles or more for secondary aged pupils.

“We also have to take account of hazardous routes, for example where there are not any pavements for pupils to walk on, and this will give an entitlement regardless of distance.

“There is also a national entitlement to free home to school transport for secondary aged pupils where their parents are on a low income, which means they are entitled to free school meals, and they are attending one of their three nearest schools between two and six miles from home.

“We always aim to provide transport in the most cost-effective manner, but in some cases taxis are the only option, and for individual pupils, the most cost effective way.”

One eight-seater car was transporting children from Castle Batch Primary School in Worle to Nailsea.

Multiple, separate vehicles, picked children up daily from their homes in similar areas, including Weston and Worle, on week days, took them to a school within North Somerset and dropped them back to their houses in the afternoon.

The council, which has several contracts with taxi companies in the area, is also liable to pay for the journey if a child is ill and does not use the taxi.

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