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Bucks school bus fees are generous compared to other counties, says education chief
THE county's education chief, who has come under-fire over school bus fees, says he has actually been generous.
Parents would face much larger bills if they lived outside Buckinghamshire, Councillor Mike Appleyard, said this week.
From September some pupils must pay £390 per year for transport, which they currently get for free.
County Hall must save £1.4m as Government cuts bite.
10,000 letters have been sent outlining the changes, prompting bitter complaints last week from parents.
More have come forward to express their dismay this week, but Cllr Appleyard, Cabinet Member for Education, insisted he done his utmost to be fair.
He oversaw a long public consultation, including 20 public meetings, though these were poorly attended.
Some parents say information about the changes has not been clear enough.
Philip Jones, of Louches Lane, Naphill, whose daughter attends Wycombe High School, called the consultation vague and said his letter had come "out of the blue".
Under catchment rules, he and his wife believed they would not have to pay.
He called for others to join him in refusing to pay a £76 phasing-in charge.
David Knights, from Lane End, claimed the new scheme "has been implemented in such a way to discriminate against grammar school pupils and those living in rural areas."
Cllr Appleyard, also Deputy Leader at BCC, said: "Compared with every other local authority we have been generous.
"We have to make savings because our budget is under serious pressure."
He pointed to fees in other areas - £477 in Oxfordshire, £450 in Northants, and £947 in Hertfordshire, where all charges applied instantly.
He said transport had been based on catchment areas until recently.
But this had to be changed because of the advent of academies, which can now vastly increase their catchment, potentially leaving the council with a gargantuan bill.
A much more expensive plan to make parents pay for buses had been drawn up before he became education chief. He scrapped it, believing it was unfair.
"What we've ended up with is a deal which is significantly better than any other county in the area," he said.
"I've spent an enormous amount of my personal time trying to be fair."
He insisted the council was on the side of grammar schools.
An alternative fee system, which would have benefited pupils going to their nearest grammar school, could have cost £1,170.
He said the controversial £76 annual admin fee was introduced because parents rejected an alternative which would have meant children walking further when consulted.
"I do not want to do it, but I don't have much choice," he added.
He said as a father himself, he has sympathy and understands it is tough on families.
Another reader wrote to the Free Press this week, saying parents should count themselves lucky they have not had to pay previously.
The Wooburn Green mother, who wished to be unnamed, said her children had never been considered for free passes.
- Buckinghamshire County Council has a huge school transport bill - about £14m per year.
The changes to school bus pass prices comes as it tries to save ten per cent.
By law, it must provide transport for children meeting certain criteria.
The huge burden was laid bare by the Free Press recently, as we revealed County Hall had spent £27million over four years on taxis for pupils.
Nearly a quarter of those getting taxis paid for by BCC did not have special educational needs.