UNDER-THREAT school buses - relied on by hundreds of Barnsley children - are set to be saved from being axed after local leaders stepped in and agreed to use emergency funding.

South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority approved last-ditch plans to spend £5.1m protect vital services from being cut for a two-year period.

Mayor Oliver Coppard and local leaders - including Barnsley Council leader Sir Steve Houghton - held crisis talks earlier this week in a bid to put plans in place before kids return from their summer holidays in September.

Operators had announced a scaled-back service schedule from October - a decision blamed on the government cutting post-pandemic handouts.

Most buses in Barnsley are run by private companies and firm bosses are able to decide when and where they will run their services.

Mr Coppard said: “At the moment we have limited powers over our bus services.

“I’m doing everything I can to speed up the process of getting the right powers in place, but until then, I’ll work hard to protect as many services as possible for passengers.

“I hope this emergency funding will reassure students and their families - as well as the schools themselves - that we will do whatever we can to keep these vital services running.”

The Department for Transport said it was investing £3bn into bus services by 2025 and had awarded us operators and local authorities almost £2bn since March 2020 to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic.

South Yorkshire has been allocated £570m over the next five years as part of the City Region Sustainable Transport Settlements to fund local transport within the area, including buses, it added.

When bus companies withdraw their services in October when the funding stops, SYMCA will be able to pay other companies to do the same route - however, several routes have not received any bids from operators, leaving them at risk.

Mr Coppard added: “Our communities are facing the very real threat of the biggest and most damaging cuts for a generation, thanks to this broken system which is failing passengers.

“School buses that carry children who get a zero fare bus pass from their local authority are not affected by the cuts, as these routes are already funded by SYMCA - the routes under threat were the ones which also carry children paying 80p fares.

“The loss of any bus service is a huge blow to our communities, so the scale of the cuts bus companies are planning in October is devastating.”