CONTROVERSIAL changes to home-to-school transport for post-16 students with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND), including a move to introduce charges, will save about £900,000 in the first year after their introduction.

North Yorkshire County Council launched the charge of £490 a year for the older SEND students to help stem the rapidly rising cost of running the service.

It is understood as the scheme is increasingly implemented over the next few years savings are expected to exceed the £1.7m initially projected.

A meeting of the authority’s Thirsk and Malton Constituency Committee heard  the changes had brought the SEND policy into line with that for mainstream school pupils and officers were now examining school transport policy as a whole to find “further efficiencies or where the policy is over-generous in its approach”.

Other changes included assessing young people in education over 19 using the adult social care assessment process and introducing an enhanced mileage option for statutory-aged children whose parents would prefer to transport their children themselves.

The committee was told providing an enhanced mileage option had proved more costly than the authority had envisaged due to its popularity.

The meeting heard the introduction of the contribution charge had resulted in 70 young people not requesting school transport help and instead choosing other transport means to get to school or college.

Members were told the £490 charge represented only a fraction of the actual cost, which is estimated at £8,000 a year per SEND pupil.

Ahead of the SEND transport policy being approved last year, campaigners claimed the flat fee was unfair and called for pupils to be individually assessed, but the council said its charge was among the lowest nationally.

The council’s deputy leader, Councillor Gareth Dadd said “all sorts of fears” had been raised ahead of the move to staunch unsustainable pressures on the high needs budget being approved, but it had become apparent the concerns had not come to fruition.

He added: “We would be well advised to remember why we had to do this. It isn’t just about the £900,000 saving we have presently got, it was about stemming the increasing costs. We can certainly be proud as an authority that we took action.”

Councillor Janet Sanderson, the authority’s children’s services boss, agreed that the changes had proved positive, highlighting that dozens of SEND students were developing a life skill by accessing public transport.

She said: “If they do it in these formative years that stays with them forever.”