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Revealed: Buckinghamshire County Council's £27million bill for taxis for school pupils
COUNCIL chiefs have spent nearly £27m of taxpayers' money over four years paying for taxis for pupils to go to school, the Bucks Free Press can reveal.
By law, Buckinghamshire County Council has to transport the children, most of whom have special educational needs.
The Freedom of Information statistics, obtained by the BFP, show that at least £6m was spent taking pupils to the schools by taxi in each of the last four years.
The highest was £6,970,293 in 2009/10, with a total of £26.68m.
While the majority of the 8,357 pupils had special educational needs, nearly a quarter did not.
The figures are revealed at the same time that many free school bus passes are axed, as education chiefs aim to save £1.4m per year.
Council chiefs defended the payments at a time of cuts, saying they do not make the law.
Authorities have statutory obligations to provide children, aged five to 16, with free transport if they are going to their nearest school and it is over two or three miles away, depending on age.
Any child with special educational needs is entitled to free transport, regardless of distance, as are disabled youngsters and children with no safe walking route.
BCC said there was not a more efficient way these children could be transported at a lower cost to the taxpayer.
A BCC statement read: “We constantly review the use of taxis and have made significant savings already by reducing the number of taxis we do use.
“We have a statutory duty to provide transport to specific pupils and in a small percentage of cases a taxi is the most appropriate and most cost effective means of providing that transport.
“We have considered taxis taking pupils to the nearest bus stop but this does not save money because we have to pay for the round trip of the taxi, not just the two miles to the bus stop.”
Wycombe MP Steve Baker said he will write to BCC Leader Martin on the issue.
He said: “It's an astonishing expense. I'm sure that hard pressed families will want to know what the council and Bucks MPs can do to make sure the right balance is struck.”
He said the figures showed how great the burden on the council is, adding many of the statutory regulations imposed by Westminster need to be reviewed.
But he added: “All hard working parents who are struggling at the moment will want to be assured that this money on the taxis has been wisely and appropriately spent.
“The money has, after all, been taken from hard working families who at the moment I'm sure would have other purposes for spending their money for their own children.”
Emma Boon, Taxpayers' Alliance spokesman, said: “Local authorities have to find ways to save money in the coming years.
"Some taxi journeys will be for children with special educational needs or children with exceptional circumstances, but that shouldn’t stop councils from ensuring value for taxpayers’ money from the overall bill.”