Falkirk Council: School crossing patrols and free bus travel could be axed to save cash
and live on Freeview channel 276
Falkirk councillors heard on Tuesday that “everything should be on the table” as they agreed to look at making a series of changes that could save more than £500,000 in total.
Zero Based Budgeting (ZBB) is often used by large corporations to help them look at their finances from scratch and challenge spending that isn’t necessary. Members of Falkirk Council were told that it can often highlight areas where councils spend money over and above their statutory requirements.
SNP Councillor Paul Garner, the council’s economic development spokesperson, said: “We know that savings from school crossing patrols, bus subsidies and school transport will be very difficult for us to agree – but the starting point is to gather the facts and have a grown-up discussion about the best way forward.”
A local ZBB transport project revealed that nine school crossing patrols are currently provided that are well above national guidelines, which take into account the volume of traffic and number of children.
Councillors were told that local guidelines are “significantly more generous” and of the 45 school crossing patrols provided, nine are in excess of the national criteria.
Withdrawing all nine would mean a saving for the council of approximately £32,000 per annum.
Councillors said they would need to consider the implications of any report carefully, especially with regard to road safety – but they did agree to look at the possibility of making the cuts.
Another change that will be looked it is the distance criteria for pupils entitled to free school bus travel.
Each day, Falkirk Council transports approximately 3500 mainstream pupils to and from school using around 120 vehicles costing approximately £2.9 million every year.
Rising costs caused by increases in fuel, energy and wages saw the bill soar by £750,000 this year and prices are anticipated to get even higher when the next tendering takes place in three years time.
Currently pupils under eight who live more than a mile from their catchment school and pupils over eight who live more than two miles from their catchment school are entitled to free travel. The statutory requirement is two miles for children under eight and three miles for those over eight years old.
While the proposal could save up to £450,000, around 1300 pupils would find themselves without transport and a consultation would be required.
There will also be a review of transport costs for approximately 560 children with additional support needs (ASN), which currently has an annual cost of approximately £2 million, excluding the cost of 100 passenger transport assistants.
A review would look at whether all children need ASN transport, whether they need an assistant and whether they could travel with others.
ZBB will also be used to look at a spend of £1.1 million every year on subsidising bus services, particularly on the district’s more rural routes.
The suggestion is that Demand Responsive Transport – using taxis only when required rather than running large, buses even when empty – might not only save money but would also help the council with its ambition to reduce carbon emissions.
Other parts of the ZBB review are less controversial and are already being implemented.
The review is helping Falkirk Council slash its spending on transport for staff, including using pool cars more where it is cost-effective. Plans are well underway to reduce a huge overspend on vehicle insurance as the council has historically had a high rate of accidents that has pushed premiums up.
Council leader Cecil Meiklejohn, said: “We have a significant budget gap which we have to meet in order to provide a balanced budget and at this stage everything has to be on the table and has to be looked at in detail – we are not being asked to make decisions but allow things to be further explored and look at the potential that is there.”
The Labour group leader Anne Hannah said she hoped it would be the first of many reports bringing more information.
“I’m very well aware of how painful and how difficult ZBB can be but the process is important because – hopefully – it enables ways of reduces ways of reducing costs without reducing services,” she said.
She said that any final decisions on things such as school crossings and school bus services would require a lot more detail and a lot more consultation with parents and local communities.
Conservative group leader James Kerr agreed that he looked forward to seeing more detail in future reports.