Council could axe free school buses

By Jonathan BarnesFREE school buses could be axed if the Government gives a county council the go-ahead for a trial scheme that will see parents paying their children's fares for the first time in 60 years.

By Jonathan Barnes

FREE school buses could be axed if the Government gives a county council the go-ahead for a trial scheme that will see parents paying their children's fares for the first time in 60 years.

Suffolk County Council's idea to scrap free buses is still in its early stages, but one possible idea would be to ask parents to pay an up-front amount per term.

Tony Lewis, the council's portfolio holder for children and young people, said: "We're stuck with legislation from the 1940s. All the rest of school legislation has changed dramatically since then, but transport has stayed the same.


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"There are high-profile cases with the mileage limit where the catchment ends in the middle of the village street where people pay if they live at number 97, but not if they live at 95."

He added: "The Government is proposing pilots to look at the subject and we have expressed an interest in that.

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"Somebody has to provide £14million a year to pay for school transport. It's free for the children, but it's being paid for by direct taxation.

"We'd like to have a pilot where we try a system where everybody would pay – but it would include the normal exceptions where people are on low incomes."

If the scheme goes ahead, it would bring mainstream schools in Suffolk into line with the proposal

to stop free school bus places for pupils at denominational schools of their choice.

That plan has been criticised by Suffolk county councillor, Stefan Oliver, who called the proposal "discriminatory and catastrophic" and said it was likely to force schools to close.

"Parents chose to send their children to these schools, not only because they have high performance records, but because they still try to give to their pupils the high moral standards and the Christian ethos, that used to be the norm in this country," said the Conservative councillor.

"This discriminatory and catastrophic proposal is not only going to impose yet another burden on already hard-pressed families, but is likely to force the closure of some high-performing schools, through a sudden drop in numbers.

"These schools are maintained by large voluntary aid contributions, which save the county council substantial sums of money."

He added: "If the schools have to close, this will mean that other schools around the county will suddenly have to employ more teachers and hastily erect further classrooms to accommodate the increased numbers of pupils.

"What is saved on the buses will have to be immediately spent on accommodating the pupils else where and will as well cause the probable loss of some of the best schools in Suffolk.

"This is yet another example of this administration's inability to grasp the situation. They are fiddling at the edges of the budget, cutting from those who most need the help, without tackling the real heart of the problem."

jonathan.barnes@eadt.co.uk

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