HOME to school transport for Dorset children with additional needs to be reformed – according to a senior council director.

Economic growth and infrastructure director Matthew Piles says the system is broken and in need of a cash injection if it is to continue to operate.

He says the council has a legal obligation to provide transport to and from school for more than 1,300 pupils with proven special education and/or disability (SEND) need, because of the challenges they face – but each year there is growing need and increasing costs.

In addition to those pupils recognised as needing higher level support for their educational or physical needs, almost 4,000 Dorset pupils are now recognised as requiring support – having an education, health and care plan (EHCP).

Mr Piles says that each year the transport costs for children with additional needs had increased by 8per cent while the budget had only risen by 3 per cent.

He said that over the next decade it was predicted there would be a 25% increase in post-16 and SEND transport need.

He told councillors this week that the council was now spending over £12m each year on school transport for children falling under the SEND category – compared to £8.6m on mainstream school pupils. Mr Piles said that when he started his role SEND transport was costing £3million each year and mainstream school transport £10m, a reversal of the spending position in just a few years.

He said the situation was not helped by having a slimmed-down public bus network which might have been called on.

“For my team, who transport 10,000 pupils every day it is proving very difficult” said Mr Piles, “Post-Covid we have a shortage of drivers, higher fuel costs and inflation. The issues that we have is not just a local issue, but a national issue,” he told the audit and governance committee.

“There is a perfect storm arising from school transport,” he warned, adding that the situation had been made worse by not achieving a share of Government bus subsidy, an award which did go to neighbouring Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole.

The meeting heard that improvements were being planned with an on-going review of school transport and a multi-department team now working on ways of bringing the overall costs down.