Council's 'crocodile tears' over disabled transport cuts
Wearside Liberal Democrats have slammed Sunderland councillors' "rank hypocrisy" over a decision to make parents of vulnerable young people pay towards their travel costs.
Last week Sunderland Council's cabinet agreed to proceed with plans to make families of youngsters with disabilities and special educational needs pay £651 a year for assisted travel to and from school, college and work placements.
At the moment, Sunderland City Council provide assistance with transport for over 900 full-time students aged 16–25 who have a Statement of Special Educational Needs or who have a medical condition which means they cannot use public transport to get to school or college. To qualify students must live more than 3 miles (the distance the Council classes as walking distance) from their place of study, and provide evidence from a medical professional about why they need help with transport.
During last week's cabinet meeting ruling councillors blamed central government cuts to their budget for their decision to make families pay towards the cost of the travel, despite concerns raised by the Liberal Democrats and local residents.
Wearside Lib Dems say ruling Labour councillors should cut their own allowances to make the estimated £100,000 saving the Council says charging families for travel will save.
Commenting, Millfield Lib Dem campaigner Niall Hodson, who is leading the campaign against the charges, said:
"Sunderland's Labour councillors should never have let their plan to charge families £651 a year get this far. They have been completely deaf to residents’ criticisms of their approach to services for vulnerable adults and children. I wrote to Councillor Pat Smith, the Cabinet member responsible, to raise residents’ concerns back in December and she did not even have the decency to respond.
"Cabinet members have blamed central government cuts, but their crocodile tears suggest that they are more interested in lining their own pockets than helping Sunderland's vulnerable young people.”
Bailey Baker, Lib Dem campaigner for Barnes, added:
"Only last month senior Labour councillors in charge of the council refused to consider reducing their own special responsibility allowances. Cutting these allowances to the same level as Newcastle Council would save £240,000 a year - more than enough to pay for travel for young people with special educational needs and disabilities.
"To add insult to injury, the same councillors who are making vulnerable young people and their families pay for travel to school are allowed to claim for their travel to council meetings; and there is no stipulation that they live more than 3 miles away to claim, unlike young disabled people. This rank hypocrisy shows that Sunderland Council’s leadership has its priorities seriously wrong.”
The Council will now run a consultation before making a final decision about whether to cut the grants.