Free school buses escape axe

CONTROVERSIAL plans to axe funding for free buses to and from faith schools have been shelved.

Hartlepool Borough Council was considering axing £125,000 of funding in a move which would affect 340 pupils at English Martyrs School and Sixth Form College, in Catcote Road.

But a last-minute budget amendment will see the transport continue for at least the next financial year.

Around 25 parents, staff and pupils in the public gallery cheered last night’s decision.

Despite councillors agreeing to keep running the service, a consultation to decide the long-term future is ongoing.

A report is due to go before cabinet in March and then to the full council to see what the long-term future holds.

Independent councillors Paul Thompson and Mike Turner said they had been contacted by concerned parents over the issue.

Coun Thompson said the plan was “severely jeopardising the education of those students that have applied to go to English Martyrs this year”.

Coun Turner said the issue had caused a lot of confusion and some parents would find it difficult to send their children to the school if the transport was removed.

Coun Thompson originally wanted to see money set aside for the ward budgets used to fund the service.

But a Labour Group proposal to fund it from the Job Evaluation Appeal Reserve was then unanimously agreed.

Despite his support, Mayor Drummond said it was “extremely poor governance” to put together a £250m budget ad hoc.

The transport was being considered because it is not a statutory requirement.

But the council does have a statutory duty to provide home-to-school transport for secondary school pupils whose school is more than three miles away from their home.

l It’s your vote: Page 8