The bill for transporting Norfolk children to school has soared to a whopping £62m - with officers warning the surging spend will add to County Hall's multi-million-pound funding gap.

Norfolk County Council, which has a statutory duty to provide free travel to their nearest suitable school for eligible children aged five to 16, has gone over its £55.6m home-to-school budget by £6.1m.

That is money the authority spends on taxis, buses and minibuses to get youngsters to and from their education.

The bulk of it is used to get children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) to schools best placed to cater for their needs - which can mean costly taxi rides miles from their homes, including to schools outside Norfolk.

While the Conservative-controlled council is trying to reduce costs, officers said there had been "unprecedented" demand this year, with added pressure due to the increasing complexity of children's special educational needs and disabilities.

Councillors heard about the overspend at a meeting on Friday.

Eastern Daily Press: Norfolk County Council's County Hall headquartersNorfolk County Council's County Hall headquarters (Image: Mike Page)

James Wilson, director of sufficiency, planning and education strategy in children's services, said the council was paying for some youngsters to travel "substantial" distances to get to appropriate schools.

He said: "Logistically, transporting tens of thousands of children around the county every single day is an enormous and complex challenge.

"In financial terms, we now spend more than £60m a year on that task, so it is a big part of our business, both financially and in terms of the operational challenge around it."

Mr Wilson said it was increasing year on year, with the number of children eligible for transport increasing and their needs becoming more complex to meet.

The council is trying to bring down the bill by building new specialist schools, creating specialist resource bases and through its Local First Inclusion programme, which aims to support SEND children in mainstream schools.

The authority also has a scheme offering young SEND people support to help them become confident independent travellers - which will also cut travel costs.

Eastern Daily Press: Norfolk county councillor Robert SavageNorfolk county councillor Robert Savage (Image: Newsquest)

The council recently agreed to make £42m of cuts and savings and Robert Savage, Conservative councillor for Wymondham, asked where the money to tackle the overspend would come from.

Mr Wilson said it would have to be absorbed by the council's overall budget, adding to the spending gap for the next year.