THE leadership of a council left facing “severe financial challenges” after a disability discrimination campaigner launched a lawsuit to enable children in wheelchairs to travel on any school bus, have said the will be no winners to the legal action.

After approving short-term measures to enable children who pay for home to school transport to continue using the service, North Yorkshire County Council’s executive said the long-term result of the action would be that costs would rise for taxpayers, or children would be denied transport and parents would have to find alternatives.

It is understood the council is already facing huge pressures on school transport due to social distancing requirements, with the worst case forecast that the bill for the extra coaches needed could quadruple from £24m annually, while some areas may not have sufficient vehicles to provide the service.

Ahead of the executive meeting it had emerged the challenge had been levelled by disability campaigner Doug Paulley, who had previously been left in tears after being refused access to the council’s Wetherby to York bus service, despite the authority having never failed to provide home to school transport for disabled children.

In an online blog Mr Paulley wrote: “The council have therefore been quite content to run inaccessible buses, thus segregating disabled kids, and have made no effort whatsoever to provide unsegregated accessible school transport. I make no apology for taking action to ensure the council and its officials complies with its criminal law obligation to ensure school buses are accessible to disabled pupils. I suggest other councils take note.”

Mr Paulley was not named in the meeting, but councillors heard the campaigner still wanted the council to insist on all home to school transport vehicles being wheelchair accessible, as when the vehicles were used for non-school services, disabled members of the public could use them.

The council’s executive member for education, Councillor Patrick Mulligan said the most serious issue resulting from the legal action was the 190 children who may be denied access to school buses after government exemptions to transport regulations end in December next year.

He said the council was facing having to pay £12,000 per vehicle to convert coaches to be accessible, creating a £2.7m bill across the county. Cllr Mulligan said: “I am hoping whoever has brought the challenge realises that the consequences might be the loss of transportation access to up to 190 pupils and we still have a lot of challenges ahead to address this problem.”

The authority’s deputy leader Councillor Gareth Dadd said the consequences of having to rebalance budgets to pay for accessible buses would be detrimental to the special education needs and disabilities group. He said: “So the very people that this challenger was attempting to help, however honourable that challenge was, could well harm them.”