To receive a verbal update from the Director of Environment and Operational Services.
Doug Wilkinson (Director of Environment and Operational Services) provided Cabinet with a verbal update on Transport for London (TfL) Under 18s and School Transport, as summarised below.
1. That as part of the £1.6 billion funding and financing package with the Government to help ensure TfL can continue to deliver essential services until the end of September 2020, TfL had been asked to suspend free travel for under 18s. Its withdrawal means that the statutory support for school travel for some age groups falls to the local authorities, as it does in the rest of the country. The rationale for the proposal was to try and reduce pressure on the public transport network during the morning peak, when current social distancing requirements are severely reducing capacity.
2. That discussions between London Councils, TfL and the Government were on-going. Members were advised of the statutory requirements to provide home to school transport for certain categories of young people. In the short-term the Council would be required to urgently identify the specific pupils eligible for free travel using national criteria.
3. That Enfield was working closely with London Councils and lobbying Government on this issue. Whilst school children were being encouraged to walk and cycle, this was not always possible. The costs to be incurred by the Council as a result of this development were unknown at present and work was continuing. It was acknowledged that the loss of free travel for under 18s would unfairly impact poorer and vulnerable families. Work was continuing across London and further updates would be provided as the situation continued to develop.
4. Members were invited to raise questions of clarification and comments on the proposals, as summarised below.
5. That many parents submitted their school preferences based on local bus routes and ease of access to their school of choice. This change in policy would add to the financial pressures being faced by many families already as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic. Transport and education officers would work closely together to assess the impact.
6. Members expressed their concerns on all aspects of the loss of free travel for under 18s including the financial impact on poorer families and the safety and security of young people. This would add financial pressure at a time when the significant consequences of the pandemic were already being suffered by many families. The Council would continue to lobby Government on this issue. The Government must support local authorities financially to meet the significant consequences of the Covid 19 pandemic.
7. Members reiterated their view that the removal of free travel for under 18s was unfair, affecting the poorest families and placing a further financial burden on local authorities. The safety of children was paramount; many had long journeys to school on public transport. This was at a time of significant financial hardship for many families.
8. That under 18s were being punished as a result of the financial impact to TfL that had resulted from the Covid-19 pandemic and implementing the Government’s directive of staying at home and minimising the use of public transport in order to control the spread of the virus. The potential negative impact on bus drivers and other workers in managing this change whilst not adversely impacting on children’s safety was noted. This matter also highlighted the broader issue of adequate Government funding of public services. TfL was not funded by Government and was dependent on income generation which made it vulnerable to major issues such as the current pandemic. London residents would suffer as a result. Councillor Caliskan, as Leader of the Council, would be lobbying Government on behalf of Enfield, together with London Councils, and called on Opposition Members to support cross-party lobbying on this issue. Members expressed the hope that this change in policy would be temporary.