Catholics accuse council of 'reneging on election promise'

CATHOLICS across the district are being handed letters saying North Somerset Council has reneged on an election promise by planning to phase out transport to faith schools.

CATHOLICS across the district are being handed letters saying North Somerset Council has 'reneged on an election promise' by planning to phase out transport to faith schools.

Councillors approved 'in principle' cuts to the service which mean all school transport to faith schools will be phased out.

Churchgoers are now being asked by the Catholic diocese to write letters as part of a campaign to get the council to rethink.

The plans also include sending pupils to Backwell Community School from Yatton by train rather than coach.

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Catholic diocesan representative Justin Templer, who sits on the council's children and young persons scrutiny panel, says he was not consulted on the idea which he describes as a 'U-turn' by councillors.

Mr Templer says he wrote to each of the three main political parties before the local elections in May and received a response from the Conservative group which left him 'in no doubt' about its commitment to keep transport for faith school students.

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He said: "It was clear they supported the ongoing provision of denomination transport.

"I would like to express my grave concern and irritation that I was not involved. This was exceedingly discourteous. It is straightforward reneging on an election promise."

An email from Cllr Jeremy Blatchford in April, which had the approval of council leader Cllr Nigel Ashton, said: "The group had the opportunity to add denominational transport to the budget and, despite searching for every economy possible, it was not mentioned."

It added: "We would be strongly opposed to an instant review, as has happened elsewhere, but would seek a constructive open debate scrutinising not merely the cost of transport but the other issues including ethics, student and parental choice."

Mr Templer said he learned of the proposals at a scrutiny panel meeting earlier this year.

According to Mr Templer, the Tory administration originally planned to abolish faith schools transport altogether, but watered down its proposals at the last minute to phasing it out over several years.

Mr Templer said the parents of pupils would be able mount a legal challenge against the council should the changes go ahead.

This week Cllr Blatchford said: "The budget for the next two years is an absolute nightmare and there a lot of things we have had to consider. I have spent eight years protecting this provision which I strongly agree with. It is a decision which does not sit very happily with everybody.

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