Catholic fury at school bus charge

PARENTS of Catholic school pupils in Suffolk will have to pay £195,000 to help fund council tax cuts, it has been revealed.The region's Catholic community has reacted with fury to the axe hanging over free school buses to its schools.

PARENTS of Catholic school pupils in Suffolk will have to pay £195,000 to help fund council tax cuts, it has been revealed.

The region's Catholic community has reacted with fury to the axe hanging over free school buses to its schools.

Top-level talks between East Anglian Diocese chiefs and county council education bosses are planned in the coming weeks. Catholic parents in Suffolk could be hit by the £80-a-term bus fare.

In Essex from September this year, secondary aged students starting at the county's 17 denominational schools will be charged a subsidised fee for transport, although existing students will continue to receive it free while they are of statutory school age. The charge is a flat rate of £100 - the equivalent of £1.60 a day.


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Suffolk's two Catholic high schools both recruit pupils from a 25-mile radius.

Ipswich's St Alban's school takes pupils from Leiston, Hadleigh and Felixstowe and Bury's St Benedict's takes pupils from Stowmarket, Haverhill and Sudbury.

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St Benedict's headteacher, Paul Rossi, said: "My reaction is one of horror and disappointment. The Catholic community supports the school in the first place. The county council saves an awful lot of money by not having to pay for the upkeep of the school's infrastructure. It's appalling."

Dennis McGarry, headteacher at St Alban's, said: "Well obviously I am concerned about the implications for voluntary aided Catholic schools such as St Alban's. We have always felt ourselves to be an integral part of the Local Education Authority.

"If it applies to children in voluntary aided schools it should apply to the vast majority of schools in the county. We are hoping that they will withdraw the measure," he added.

The director of education for the Catholic Diocese of East Anglia and the acting director of learning, David Thornton, are now trying to arrange a meeting before the council discusses the budget on February 24.

Father Francis Leeder, parish priest at St Pancras Catholic Church in Orwell Place, Ipswich, said he was disappointed the schools were being penalised.

He said: "Not all children come in from miles around. They could have talked to us about a solution which would have helped us all."

Councillor Tony Lewis, who heads the department for children and young people, said: "The point is that to keep the council tax low something has to give somewhere. We are one of the few places in the country still providing free buses to schools with no catchment area.

Councillor David Rowe, who is responsible for the budget, said: "This only applies to the Catholic schools as they are the only ones that get it so there is no one else to cut it for."

He said that most other counties had already introduced the measure and added that there would be help for low-income families.

"We are not penalising their religion in anyway. We think it is fairer that they pay for the choice they make rather than someone else.

"Nothing is free. If you do not pay for it everyone in the county who pays council tax will have to pay more to cover it."

Suffolk county councillors unveiled their budget on Thursday, which includes a 3.8% rise in the county portion of the council tax.

More than £12 million has been slashed from county council expenditure – with a total of £195,000 coming from the axing of free buses to Catholic voluntary aided schools.

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