By Jo Peters

It is well reported that local authorities are facing unprecedented financial pressures. To manage the risk, many councils are battening down the hatches and focusing on the essentials or stopping spend altogether. Savings are planned, but there is no capacity to deliver the change required to create sustainable savings.

A totally understandable course of action given the immense pressure, but is this the right way to get the outcomes you need for customers or to create sustainable delivery models?

Take the hot topic of home to school transport, which is becoming one of the key cost pressures facing local authorities.

Home to school transport numbers are stark

The LGIU State of Local Government finance report indicated that children’s services, including home to school transport, was the greatest immediate financial pressure for 36% of top tier authorities.

Recent research by the County Council Network found that, nationally, spend on pre16 SEND home to school transport has risen by 29% in the last two years.

Home to school transport challenges

We are seeing these challenges playing out across our local authority clients. However, although it is a common pressure, the challenges and solutions are specific to each place and context. For example:

  • Often the service operates across organisational silos, and decisions and responsibilities are not optimally aligned
  • Each authority has a unique geography and school ecosystem
  • Local sufficiency planning and challenges around school places for SEND students will also have a significant impact
  • Mixtures of in-house and outsourced provision are often linked to legacy arrangements, procurement mechanisms and specifics/idiosyncrasies of the local market
  • Existing policy and practice may not have been reviewed for a while and have not kept up with changes in the wider system of schools and customer needs (e.g. home pickups versus collection points).
Exploring solutions for home to school transport

With such a variety of challenges, solutions are not one-size-fits-all. However, despite the ‘essential’ statutory nature of the service, this is a service where there is real scope for doing things differently and driving better outcomes for local residents. Rather than doing more of the same, exploring and understanding customer needs and using this to drive transformation can have far reaching impacts and save money.

  • It is critical to get children, parents, and schools on board with supporting and co-designing the changes to the service. Understanding the motivations, needs and how best to support SEND children to live life well
  • Really understand the operations and arrangements in place and where the levers for change are.  How do these relate to costs and what are the cost drivers? Do you have the data to understand the service users?
  • Look outside the service; this needs system wide solutions at an individual, local and national level
  • Recognise the complexity and how best to plan and manage the change programme
  • Ensure the right transformation and changes skills are at the table.

To find out how we can help you, please email  SpeakToUs@WeAreC.Co