Tories pledge changes to school bus plan

By James HoreLABOUR politicians have claimed a victory against a Conservative scheme to charge pupils £300 a year for school transport. Conservative-run Essex County Council has proposed cutting free bus transport to denominational schools, starting in January.

By James Hore

LABOUR politicians have claimed a victory against a Conservative scheme to charge pupils £300 a year for school transport.

Conservative-run Essex County Council has proposed cutting free bus transport to denominational schools, starting in January.

The measures, designed to help reduce the council's £28million school transport budget, led to an outcry from angry teachers, parents and pupils.


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Among the schools that could be hit by the move are St Benedict's College in Colchester and St John Payne School in Chelmsford.

The prospect of charging led pupils from St John Payne School to issue a statement of opposition to the proposal.

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“Such discrimination against a minority group purely on grounds of religious creed has disturbing antecedents in history and should sound alarm bells in our pluralist and ethnically diverse society,” it said.

The Labour group on Essex County Council also tabled an emergency motion, claiming many families would not be able to afford the charge and their children would be forced to leave their faith schools.

But the Labour group has now agreed to withdraw its motion after receiving assurances from council leader, Lord Hanningfield, there would be significant changes to the proposal.

The full council, instead of just the Conservative-dominated cabinet, will now take a decision on the plan.

Labour group leader, Paul Sztumpf, said: “I am delighted that we have been able to change Tory minds on this matter and I would like to thank all those who have supported us in this endeavour.

“However, I would state that we have yet to see the final, detailed Tory proposals and therefore the lobbying of the Tory cabinet and individual county councillors by interested parties should continue.”

Labour county councilor Julie Young, who represents Wivenhoe, said she was “delighted” the Conservatives had bowed to pressure.

“We will fight on to bring down this scheme in its entirety and I would like to thank parents and students for being effective in their campaigning, but we must continue to lobby,” she added.

But Lord Hanningfield insisted there had not been a climbdown by the Conservatives. “We are concerned that we take more note of people's contributions to consultations,” he said.

“The Labour group would claim that they have forced this, but we are genuinely listening to what people say and will be presenting a paper in due course.”

The cabinet had been due to take a decision on October 21, but the revised proposal will now be voted upon later in the year.

james.hore@eadt.co.uk

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