School transport outrage

CHILDREN attending Catholic schools across North Somerset will now have to get there under their own steam - after the council agreed to stop providing free transport. Councillors approved 'in principle' cuts to the service which mean all school transport

CHILDREN attending Catholic schools across North Somerset will now have to get there under their own steam - after the council agreed to stop providing free transport.Councillors approved 'in principle' cuts to the service which mean all school transport to faith schools will be phased out over the next few years.Churchgoers are now being asked by the Catholic Diocese to write letters as part of a campaign to get the council to rethink. Catholic Diocesan representative Justin Templer, who sits on the authority's children and young persons scrutiny panel, says he was not consulted on the idea to phase out free transport. 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.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 to 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 are 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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