Nick Smith MP has branded the proposed cutbacks to school transport in Blaenau Gwent as “shortsighted at best and destructive at worst” as he urged the council to do right by local children and young people.
Blaenau Gwent Council are considering measures that would see travel grants for post-16 education phased out over the next three years and a shrinking of the maximum distance from school needed to qualify for free transport.
While the plan is currently out to consultation, the Blaenau Gwent MP has written to the council warning these cutbacks could undermine the millions of pounds invested in building new schools across the borough.
Mr Smith said: “As someone who grew up on an out of town estate I think young people need to be encouraged to stay on for the sixth form, I think we need to be helping support students, not putting up barriers.
“Because the free transport cut is based off distance, it hits some of our estates, towns and villages by design.
“The council is expecting families to shoulder this burden while admitting it could impact pupils accessing further education. When we went through this massive overhaul of education in Blaenau Gwent, it was to give our children the best chance to succeed.
“A move like this could hamstring all that hard work and so many young talents could miss out and lose out. That would be unforgiveable.”
Here is the full text of Nick Smith MP’s consultation response to the council:
I am writing in response to your consultation on the proposed changes to school transport.
In my capacity as an MP, I have already had concerned parents, governors and even students getting in touch, worried about the impact of these changes.
While I accept that eight years of local government cuts handed down from Conservative Governments in Westminster have been brutal, I am deeply concerned at the council carrying this proposal forward. In my time as an MP I have championed a strong education service in Blaenau Gwent, and regardless of the political makeup of the council I have backed all efforts to improve our education services.
It is genuinely concerning that the council is considering an option for post-16 education that by your own admission “could potentially have a negative impact on students accessing further education.” I think that is a deeply worrying message for parents across Blaenau Gwent who want the best for their children and who want them to seize every opportunity available. The best way to thrive in the years ahead is to ensure we give the generations to come the tools to succeed. Despite the past few years of education in the borough being sometimes tumultuous, there has been a clear commitment in overhauling education to make it better.
To think that millions of pounds of support could be undercut by trying to save a fraction of that outlay is shortsighted at best and destructive at worst. Our young people now have fantastic facilities in our borough and we should not undermine the opportunities they provide. Amongst the comments I have received since this news, it has been pointed out that the development of the Learning Zone in Ebbw Vale came with assurances to schools further away like Tredegar that transport would not be an issue. Yet just a few years later, transport is very much an issue.
The reduction of free school bus travel to statutory distance limits is also deeply troubling. When you see the list of areas affected, you realise exactly why this free bus travel was extended. Estates like:
- Garnlydan and Rassau,
- Waundeg, Nantybwch, Tynewydd,
- Coed Cae
These are the areas in our borough that deserve this extra support. We cannot abandon entire villages like Blaina or Cwm and expect parents to just shoulder the extra burden without difficulty.
Blaenau Gwent currently go above and beyond when it comes to school bus travel distances, but that is because Blaenau Gwent is exactly the sort of place where geography and climate matter.
In summary, young people and their supportive parents should not be put off from improving their life chances. The council cannot centralise education and then increase the charges for accessing it. That can’t be right.