Concession in 'Catholic tax' row

EDUCATION bosses have made a concession in the battle against a £300 school bus charge for children at Catholic schools.Under new proposals revealed yesterday children currently at Catholic schools look set to carry on getting free school buses, with a £300 a year charge likely to be phased in for new pupils from September next year.

EDUCATION bosses have made a concession in the battle against a £300 school bus charge for children at Catholic schools.

Under new proposals revealed yesterday children currently at Catholic schools look set to carry on getting free school buses, with a £300 a year charge likely to be phased in for new pupils from September next year.

Essex County Council had hoped to abolish free home to school transport for pupils at denominational schools from September 2004 in a bid to save money. Instead pupils would be charged £300 a year.

But the proposal, announced just before schools broke up for the summer, provoked a storm of protest. The charge was branded a “Catholic tax” as the majority of schools affected were Catholic.


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A special meeting of the full council is due to meet next Fridayto make a decision about the matter.

Under the new proposal, the council would continue to provide free transport for existing students at denominational schools. The charge would be introduced for new Year 7 pupils starting in September. It would not apply to low income families, while large families would also be protected from excessive cost.

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Essex education cabinet member Iris Pummell said: “We have listened long and hard over recent months to the views of the church authorities, schools, parents and the students themselves.

“The biggest concern expressed to us was over the introduction of charges for existing pupils, and our proposal means that these pupils will continue to receive free transport.

“We do, though, need to take action to address our current budgetary difficulties, and this is one of a number of difficult decisions that we have to make.”

Alan Whelan, principal at St Benedict's Roman Catholic College, Colchester, said: “I'm waiting for an apology for the unnecessary harm that's been done in terms of trauma to so many of our children. It was so unnecessary to suggest that it could be brought in this year.

“At least people have listened to us, but it will be no relief to parents of present Year 6 children.”

Mr Whelan said there will be 2,000 people protesting outside County Hall next Friday, calling for the proposal to be scrapped altogether.

Julie Young, a Labour county councillor who has been campaigning against the introduction of the charge, said: “Children have been extremely traumatised by this process and I think the county council has a lot of ground to make in restoring the Catholic community's faith in the county council.”

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