Faith school pupils lose free transport

HUNDREDS of families campaigning against plans by North Somerset Council to phase out free transport to faith schools lost their battle this week.

HUNDREDS of families campaigning against plans by North Somerset Council to phase out free transport to faith schools lost their battle this week.

Councillors voted unanimously for the move at an executive meeting on Tuesday as part of its strategy to plug a £17million gap in its budget over the next two years.

Previously, a prominent member of the Catholic community, Justin Templer, accused the council of 'reneging on an election promise'.

Mr Templer says he received an assurance from Cllr Jeremy Blatchford before the local elections in May that a Conservative administration would not review denominational transport unless there were 'unforeseen events'

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During the meeting, Cllr Bob Garner, who represents Clevedon North, called for an investigation into whether or not promises had been broken.

Cllr Garner, who declared a personal interest on religious grounds, said: "Would it not be prudent to have an investigation with regards to the promise which was made?"

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Council leader Cllr Nigel Ashton said: "I do not need to have an investigation to work out if promises were given."

Cllr Ashton agreed to meet with members of the Catholic community to discuss the executive's decision.

Speaking after the decision, the headteacher of St Francis Primary School, in Nailsea, Paul Stathers, said: "I am very disappointed with the outcome and I think the council did not listen to us. I am worried about the effect it will have on families just above the lower income level.

"Some parents will not be able to send their children to St Bede's Catholic College, in Bristol which should be the natural progression."

Currently, 257 children use transport to faith schools at a cost of £261,000 per year.

According to Cllr Ashton, 20 primary school pupils and 40 secondary pupils will be affected from next September.

During a public consultation on this issue held by the council, which opened on October 25 and closed last week, 376 responses were received.

More than 300 respondents were in favour of keeping the free service to faith school, with just 66 opting to phase it out.

However, Cllr Ashton said that the majority of respondents were of Catholic faith.

The executive's decision means that pupils currently receiving home to school transport to faith schools will continue to do so.

The council also said will provide transport for pupils of low income families to 'the nearest secondary school no more than two to 25 miles in distance and with a maximum travel time of 1hour 15minutes'.

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