AN education boss has hit back at claims that major changes to a council’s school transport policy would cause extra misery for children whose parents are separated.

Councillor Patrick Mulligan, North Yorkshire County Council’s executive member for education, said cutting waste from its annual £24.1m school transport bill would help the authority save its yearly £2.4m overspend in the area.

He was speaking ahead of the authority’s transport scrutiny and executive committees examining feedback received from a 60-day consultation and recommendations for a new school transport policy from September.

Proposed changes include to only provide mainstream school transport to children attending their catchment school or the nearest school to their home, rather than any school which is closer than the catchment school.

Other proposals include ending the free arrangement for pupils whose families can demonstrate a 50/50 spilt in where the child lives during the school week, as statutory guidance “does not place any duty on local authorities to provide assistance to a second home address”.

The officers’ report states its current policy results in the authority “paying for two seats in which one will always be empty”. Instead, parents will be expected to pay £600 annually for a ‘second seat’, as the authority is also looking to increase charges for children who are not eligible for free transport from the current £390 charge.

An officers’ report to the committees said there had been “mixed reaction” to the proposal would affect low income families.

Councillor Mike Jordan, who was chairman of the scrutiny committee until swapping the Conservative Party for the Yorkshire Party last year, said the proposal would make life more difficult for children with divorced or separated parents.

In response, Cllr Mulligan said it was likely that the affected youngsters would be from an amicable relationship “or else the children would be living with just one parent”. He said: “We are not targeting people who are divorced. It is unfair to the ratepayers of the county when we are paying for two seats when one is alternately empty. This is not going to be fully implemented for several years. It is only the new students that will be affected, and they will have a choice of paying for that extra seat.”