Oxfordshire County Council to reconsider axing of spare seat scheme following backlash from parents

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
The axing of places on school buses for children will be reconsidered following a backlash from parents.

Oxfordshire County Council planned on withdrawing its Spare Seats scheme for pupils travelling from Middle Barton and The Bartons villages to Chipping Norton School.

It follows a furore last year when the council scrapped the scheme on nine routes, affecting more than 200 children including at Wheatley Park School, The Warriner in Bloxham and Wood Green in Witney.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The council says the scheme, which allows parents with children not eligible for free home-to-school transport to pay to use spare seats on school buses, is no longer cost neutral.

The axing of places on school buses for children will be reconsidered following a backlash from parents.The axing of places on school buses for children will be reconsidered following a backlash from parents.
The axing of places on school buses for children will be reconsidered following a backlash from parents.

Leader of the Conservatives on the county council, Eddie Reeves, submitted a motion that was discussed at full council meeting on Tuesday June 9, requesting the leader and relevant cabinet member(s) bring a report to cabinet to “address how existing numbers of school bus places can be maintained and, where possible, increased”.

Speaking out at the meeting, Mr Reeves said: “Either we think this council is in the business of making life easier for residents or it is in the business of making life more difficult.

“The reality is this is going to hammer certain families in this county.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Parents themselves were only given two weeks notice of this sweeping change.”

One parent at the meeting, Stuart Bartlett, said: “The loss of the Spare Seats bus scheme will have such a negative impact on our family.

“The prospect of having this route removed and leaving us with only a few weeks to find alternatives feels deeply, deeply unfair.”

Councillor John Howson, cabinet member for Children, Education and Young People’s Services said: “Oxfordshire County Council has a statutory duty to provide free school transport for a young person attending their nearest school.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“Following a public consultation exercise in 2014, the council changed its policy so as to provide free transport from Oxfordshire homes to the nearest available school.

“Previously where there have been buses with ‘spare’ seats (i.e. the number of eligible young people was lower than the capacity of the bus), such spare seats were offered to non-eligible young people.

“However, it is not cost effective to maintain a high level of spare or empty seats for young people who do not qualify for free transport.

“Across the county, the number of eligible young people has reduced meaning the number of spare seats are no longer available.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Conservative councillor Nigel Simpson thanked officers for trying to find a solution to the problem but also said “removing the buses will force more children into cars”.

Mr Reeves added: “I’m reliably informed that ZEZ fines between April 2022 and last month are now in excess of a million pounds.

“There is money surely to tackle this problem.

“It will take creativity and it will take resolve on the cabinet’s part and I urge them so to do.”

The motion passed was passed by councillors unanimously.

For more information about Oxfordshire County Council’s current Spare Seat Scheme and school transport options, visit: https://www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/residents/schools/travelling-school