PLANS to save £717,000 by making cuts to school and college transport services will go out to public consultation.

Shropshire Council’s cabinet agreed to put the proposal out to the public at a meeting on Wednesday.

Councillor Roger Evans, leader of the Lib Dem group on the council, branded the plans a “tax on rural areas and students” and said he was worried about how poorer families would cope.

But Cllr Peter Nutting, council leader, said it would hit urban areas equally as hard and said the consultation period would be listened to and all feedback taken into consideration.

The cuts, which would affect new applicants and not those with agreements already in place,  would see higher bills for some families, while nursery transport for children with special educational needs will be withdrawn completely.

Families applying for the next school year would face making an annual financial contribution of £437.50, compared to the current £142.50 figure.

Currently, the council provides transport assistance for 200 post 16 students to mainstream school, sixth forms or other further educational establishments.  

Of the 200 post-16 students receiving transport assistance, 59 students are paying the higher rate of the contribution of £875 and 141 students are paying the lower rate of contribution of £142.50, which is set to rise under the changes.

It also provides transport for 144 special educational needs students, which does not see a contribution made from families. If the plans are approved, a contribution will need to be made.

It also provides transport for 17 special educational needs nursery children for which no contribution is currently required. The council is proposing that this service is axed altogether to save £60,000.

Cllr Nick Bardsley, portfolio holder for children and young people, said: “This is for permission to consult.

“This will not affect existing users of services, it is new applicants that will be affected.

“The consultation will be listened to. This is a proposal to be consulted on and I expect the final document that comes back to cabinet will look a lot different to the one before us today.”

Councillor Evans said: “It’s a large cut and people in rural areas around me are very concerned about it.

“It will hit those less well-off very hard and is a tax on rural areas and a tax on students. People who live in urban areas can walk or cycle, but you can’t if you live out in the countryside.”

Bur Cllr Nutting said: “It is not a tax on rural areas and it is not realistic to say you can walk or cycle easily from one end of Shrewsbury to the other.

“We will listen to what the public say.”

Cllr Bardsley added: “It is a very expensive service to provide and costs about £3,500 per pupil.

“We are asking for a few hundred pounds’ contribution towards that.”

The report which went to the cabinet, written by Karen Bradshaw, head of children’s services, said: “The council is committed to providing efficient, integrated transport services whilst ensuring that its statutory duties are met.

“Financial pressures mean that the council has identified a £717k savings target attributed to school transport, including those transport functions which are discretionary in nature.”

The consultation could begin in the next fortnight.