Transport chiefs have been forced to defend themselves after angry parents hit out at school bus contracts being cancelled from July – leaving dozens of pupils no way to get to school.

A total of 140 people so far have signed a petition calling for the cancellation to be reversed after parents were told by a number of bus companies to say their contracts for school services had been terminated earlier this month.

Parents who pay £700 a year per child for a space on school buses, claim they were not told about the cancellation – with many now worried their children will not be able to get to school.

Steve Broadbent, Buckinghamshire Council’s cabinet member for transport, said increasing spend on school transport and “very few” children eligible for help with transport using the buses has meant those routes will be taken over as commercial routes from September this year.

He also said more than £8 million had been spent on school bus services last year.

Mr Broadbent added: “The council contracts with bus operators to provide school buses for children who are eligible for transport assistance under national law as reflected in the council’s school transport policy.

“Current contracts have been in place many years and end in July 2021. This has provided the opportunity to assess passenger use and ensure that new contracts provide value for money to the taxpayer.

“Over time, many of the council-run bus services had reached a situation where there were very few eligible children on the buses – in the 2020/21 academic year there were 20 routes that carried no eligible children at all.

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“Although the council collects payment from parents who wish to purchase a spare seat on our buses for their non-eligible children, it does not cover the full costs and the council’s spend on school transport has been increasing, with over £8 million spent last year on school bus services.

“It is not best use of taxpayers’ money for us to continue to run bus services that are mainly used by non-eligible students, and which contribute to the council’s year on year overspend on school transport.

“For this reason, we have worked with local commercial bus companies so that those routes that carry few or no eligible children are taken over as commercial school bus routes from September 2021.”

He continued: “Buckinghamshire already has a thriving school bus coach sector with firms that independently operate routes and sell tickets directly to parents – over 3,000 students currently benefit from seats on commercial school buses. We are pleased that bus operators have come forward to offer new additional bus routes in September 2021.

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“One of the key benefits of commercial services for parents who want to buy a seat for their child is that it can provide greater certainty – the council is only able to sell spare seats remaining on buses after children who are eligible for free transport are allocated, but on commercially-run buses all of the seats on the bus are for sale.

“Across the wider council-run school bus network, we have taken the opportunity to retender contracts with changed bus routes and stopping points so that, from September 2021, services will focus on carrying eligible children in the most cost-efficient way possible.

“All eligible children will have transport to school as usual in September, and those families of non-eligible children who paid us for transport last year or who were interested in doing so were informed of the changes being made to services.”