Challenge to school transport charge

ESSEX Labour councillors are challenging the Conservatives' controversial plans to cut free transport to denominational schools.The current proposal is a £300 yearly charge for bus transport for each pupil to school, starting in January 2004.

ESSEX Labour councillors are challenging the Conservatives' controversial plans to cut free transport to denominational schools.

The current proposal is a £300 yearly charge for bus transport for each pupil to school, starting in January 2004.

Parents, staff and pupils at St Benedict's College, Colchester, and other Catholic secondary schools in Essex have protested against the idea being introduced, and claim that it is equivalent to a tax on Catholics.

Now the Labour group on Essex County Council has tabled an emergency motion on the issue. They argue that many families would not be able to afford the charge and children would be forced to leave their faith schools.


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The Labour group claims it has been trying to have the matter debated at a policy development group but the Conservatives have refused "point blank" to let it be discussed in public.

Labour councillors have demanded an urgent debate on the subject at the full county council meeting on Tuesday.

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Labour councillor Julie Young, who has tabled the motion, said: "We are awaiting the response from the chair of the council as to whether he will accede to our reasonable request.

"I am hopeful that he will, but if he refuses it will demonstrate loud and clear to the people of Essex that the Tories do not want to publicly debate their controversial plans, but instead want to take them behind closed doors without listening to the views of those affected."

The Labour group also say that the proposal is ill thought out and needs more in depth analysis to understand the implications.

Mrs Young added: "This whole consultation has been a sham and needs to be extended to involve governors. Bringing the change in midway through the academic year makes no sense at all."

However, the education budget is facing cutbacks of £70million over the next three years, so Essex County Council wants to introduce the charge because it needs to reduce the annual £28million school transport budget.

When the matter was discussed last month, the council's cabinet member for education, Iris Pummell, said: "It's ridiculous to suggest we haven't costed this properly – we do that with all proposals."

She added that parents who sent their children to non-denominational schools outside their catchment area had complained they were being discriminated against because they currently paid for home-to-school transport.

Meanwhile, Beaumont Parish Council has written to the county council to object its decision to withdraw free transport to many village children attending Tendring Primary School.

Beaumont falls just within the wrong distance to classify for free bus transport. In July this year the cabinet decided that to qualify for free transport, children under the age of eight would have to live more than two miles from the school, and children age of eight and over would have to live more than three miles from the school.

The parish council contributes towards the £24,000 that is needed to provide supervisors on the Tendring Lower School bus and the county council contributes half of the costs.

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