School trust fears 'bankruptcy and redundancies' over potential changes to Central Bedfordshire Council's school transport policy

But the trust’s concerns are unlikely to be borne out, says local authority's deputy leader
Central Bedfordshire Council's headquarters in Chicksands and inset, councillor Hayley WhitakerCentral Bedfordshire Council's headquarters in Chicksands and inset, councillor Hayley Whitaker
Central Bedfordshire Council's headquarters in Chicksands and inset, councillor Hayley Whitaker

A school trust has voiced fears of “bankruptcy” and “staff redundancies” if Central Bedfordshire Council presses ahead with changes to free school transport provision.

But the council’s deputy leader stressed that while it was taking the concerns “really seriously” changes were still “prospective” – adding “we’re some distance from redundancies”.

Alterations to the current policy would only affect pupils from their introduction, and not impact anyone currently accessing these travel arrangements, according to Independent Biggleswade West councillor Hayley Whitaker – who is the deputy leader and executive member for families, education and children.

The board of The Pyramid Schools Trust (PST), based in Harlington, has asked for reassurances around CBC’s proposals and for an urgent meeting, which is due to take place today (Friday, March 22).

It has “several serious concerns” and suggested that CBC would only save £93,000 in 2025/26 by the removal of the provision of transport from ‘catchment’ school to ‘nearest’ school.

But this is one of those measures “which isn’t about saving money”, said councillor Whitaker.

“We’ve done some calculations and the number of children who qualify for home to school transport works out the same across Central Bedfordshire, although on a school-by-school basis it will change,” she acknowledged.

CBC is consulting on free school transport arrangements before the feedback is analysed for consideration at a scrutiny committee and by its executive.

The PST consists of Harlington Upper, Arnold Academy, Parkfields Middle, Ramsey Manor Lower, Westoning Lower, Sundon Lower and Harlington Lower schools.

In a letter to CBC’s assistant director of capital delivery Sarah-Jane Pizzie, the PST warned: “Should this element of the proposed policy be adopted, it would create a serious and existential threat to at least half the schools within our Trust and The PST itself.

“The significant funding cuts would undoubtedly lead to restructures and redundancies in The Trust schools. Some schools would face a sudden influx of pupils.

“There’s a further specific issue concerning Harlington Upper School. The private finance initiative fees are excessive and barely affordable.

“If pupil numbers fall by the amounts we project, the school and The PST would be bankrupt by 2026. The planned timescales for this are as unreasonably short as the switch is short-sighted.

“September 2025 leaves schools without time to make the necessary adjustments to staffing and budget. The proposed alterations will have a devastating impact on our schools and the Trust itself.”

Councillor Whitaker explained: “We take their concerns really seriously and we want to work with them to address them as much as possible.

“Home to school transport is really quite complicated. The key thing is changes to this policy are prospective.

“This would only be applied to pupils from the point it’s introduced. So it’s not as if change is happening overnight.

“Around 48 per cent of pupils which attend that cluster of schools come from Luton, rather than Central Bedfordshire. They’re not attracting pupils over home to school transport costs.

“It’s because the reputation of the schools is really good. We’re some distance from redundancies. The consultation remains open and runs until Wednesday 3rd April.

“We can’t confirm if the (PST) figures are realistic or not, as we don’t understand the basis on which they’ve created these numbers yet.”