In February of last year our branch of Unite Community was approached by a group of parents in Leeds who had been informed that the customary school transport for their children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) was to be cut from start of the current school year.
Instead of minibus travel, Leeds City Council would provide some help with transport costs and, where appropriate, offer travel training so that students could make their own way to school.
The group of students affected would have been those aged 16 years at the beginning of the school year. Many of them had either severe learning disabilities or physical disabilities or both. Similar decisions have been or are being made elsewhere in the country.
The parents formed themselves into an organisation called DEAL (Disability Empowerment Action Links) to campaign with Unite Community to reverse the cut. Following a demonstration on the Town Hall steps last April, media coverage, the collection of hundreds of signatures for a petition, and lobbying, the parents eventually met with councillors and officials in June of last year.
Following the meeting, the City Council agreed to pause the transport policy for a year and to restore the normal school transport for the rest of their children’s school careers. It was also agreed to offer a personal travel allowance to those families who would like it. But, it was stressed, the allowance would operate on a purely voluntary basis.
Since June, DEAL and Unite Community have continued to meet with the councillors and officers. The City Council agreed towards the end of last year to pause their policy for a further year, but at the last joint meeting in January with campaigners, the Council agreed to reverse the cuts to school transport altogether!
This decision represents a great result for the parents and their campaigning. From Unite Community’s point of view, it shows how we can act effectively to support those facing cuts and how we can work in partnership with community groups. In short, it shows the great value of community trade unionism.