THE cost of school transport in Hampshire could soar with increased costs and a shortage of drivers meaning it will cost up to £70m a year if no action to tackle the issue is taken.

With no change in the school transport legislation, Hampshire County Council estimate that the total cost of this service for all of the county except Portsmouth and Southampton, will be up to £70.1m in 2025/26.

This compares to the £50.2m spent in 2022/23 on school transport services, of which £1.56m relates to operating costs.

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The lack of capacity in the transport sector, the shortage of drivers and operators and the increased pressure on SEN places at schools resulted in the increased cost of transport.

At the council’s Children and Young People Select Committee on July 11, councillors expressed their concern about the drastic increase in the 25/26 cost, estimated to be up to £70.1m if ‘things don’t change’.

Suzanne Smith, assistant director of children’s services, said: “We are working with other neighbouring local authorities to try to articulate what we might need from the government in terms of being able to manage this area better.

“There are some things that we are doing. We are continuing to use optimisation software but fundamentally we need a change in the legislation.

“There are a range of things that can help. But the thing that would have the biggest impact would it be if we could introduce financial contributions for those who can afford to make those contributions.

“That would really help us to manage those pressures effectively.”

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Currently, there are a total of 13,234 children that use the service. The increase in number of SEN children receiving transport has increased from 2,200 to 3,000 (+36 per cent) since 2012/13, and the forecasts suggest that this could increase to as many as 4,000 by 2026/27.

The comparable cost for SEN pupils rose by 132 per cent over the same period, from an average per child of £350 to £812 each month. It is estimated that for 2025/26, the monthly cost for these children will increase to £1,191.

Stuart Ashely, director of children’s services, said: “The system is broken. The regulations need a change to ensure children with special education needs fit under the net. But the net is so wide, and numbers are out of scale.

“We are lobbying us; Suzzane is chair of a national group that is trying to drive through the reform; we are lobbying our MPs and saying that this is an unsustainable position for the county council and unsustainable in terms of resources.”