A bid to delay raising County Durham school bus fares failed despite concerns it will impact disadvantaged families struggling with the cost-of-living. 

A motion by Labour members on Durham County Council called on the authority to reconsider raising fares to £2 but was defeated by opposition councillors. 

The local authority will increase the cost of concessionary fares to £2 from £1.63 to bring them into line with similar fares throughout the region. An initial cost of £2.80 was proposed by the authority but was later lowered to £2 after parents and councillors said it was too expensive and would be “inappropriate”.

But Labour argued families are already under enough financial strain and raising fare prices would only add to their anxiety. 

While acknowledging only nine schools would be impacted by the changes, Labour cllr Stacey Deinali said residents throughout the region would be affected. “County Durham has some of the most disadvantaged communities in the UK and while some families are eligible for free transport there are also those that are on the breadline: low-income, working families who are not eligible for benefits and not eligible for free transport,” she told councillors.  

“These are the families that are going to be impacted most. The extra stress and pressure on families can have an immense impact. I feel the decisions made by the cabinet have not been fully thought through with regards to the level of impact on families in County Durham.”

Also raising concerns to members was cllr Olwyn Gunn, Labour member for Willington and Hunwick. She said: “School cuts will cause more distress and anxieties to young people and their families. Free and easily accessible school transport is an absolute lifeline. It’s clear that for this coalition cabinet, home-to-school transport is not a priority and timing could not be worse. 

“Families are awake at night, worrying about how to feed their children, how to pay the rent and how to keep a job, and what this cabinet has done with these decisions adds to that worry.” 

Transport for almost 9,000 children and young people is provided every day, but bosses have said it must make changes to protect the future of the service. A council report states it overspent £3.9 million on Home to School Transport in 2022/23, and it is due to rise by a further £5.7 million next year. 

The fare rise is expected to raise a further £40,000 a year. 

Referencing those figures, Green party cllr Jonathan Elmer said the council needs to make the changes to maintain its future. “The service has to be financially sustainable and, at the minute, it’s not and we can’t afford it,” he added. “Everybody appreciates the vital importance of the service but sometimes difficult decisions have to be made.” 

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Opposition members also criticised Labour for their “gross inaccuracies” in publicising the changes, after some said the rise would be a £2 uplift instead of rising to £2. Cllr Elizabeth Scott said: “This is wildly inaccurate and can only be considered to be scaremongering and frightening the vulnerable families that we are trying to protect through these measures.”

Meanwhile, other councillors said Labour had several opportunities to discuss the changes and that councillors “thoroughly reviewed all options” including carrying out consultations with affected families. 

Labour’s bid to delay the decision and refer it back to cabinet was rejected.