Anger at plans to scrap ‘faith’ transport

HUNDREDS of pupils could be affected by council plans to axe funding for free buses to and from faith schools.

Hartlepool Borough Council is considering the cut in a bid to save £100,000 as part of ongoing budget cuts.

The move would affect 340 pupils at English Martyrs School and Sixth Form College, in Catcote Road, leading school bosses to launch a scathing attack on the proposal.

School headteacher Michael Lee believes the proposals would have a “devastating impact” on some families and said the school would “vigorously” oppose the proposals.

But council bosses have stressed no final decision has yet been taken and all budget proposals are subject to consultation.

The free daily service, which drops children off in the morning and picks them up on an afternoon, is provided using the council’s fleet of yellow buses and some external contractors.

Transport chiefs say it is being considered because it is not a statutory requirement. Durham County Council agreed to similar cuts last year as part of its budget savings.

The plans are part of the council’s ongoing attempt to slash £15m from its budget over the next three years.

Next year alone, the local authority needs to save £6.7m.

A council spokesman said: “In the light of unprecedented cuts in the grant which the council receives from the Government, the council must identify savings of £6.7m for 2012-13.

“Over £5.3m of this is expected to be achieved through the council’s Business Transformation efficiency programme – leaving almost £1.4m to be found from other initiatives.

“One of the many possible options being considered is the withdrawal of transport to and from faith schools as this is not a statutory requirement for the council and would save an estimated £100,000 per annum.

“We would stress that no final decision has yet been made and we will shortly be starting a consultation process on this option to seek the views of young people, schools and the general public.”

If the service was axed then transport chiefs say surplus yellow buses would be used on other routes.

Mr Lee said: “Any proposal to withdraw transport to school will have a devastating impact upon some families.

“We would oppose any such proposal vigorously.”

A spokesman for the Hexham and Newcastle Diocese said they did not wish to comment until they had seen the detailed proposals.

Most local authorities have provided transport to faith schools since the early 1980s.

The council has a statutory duty to provide home-to-school transport for secondary school pupils whose school is more than three miles away from their home, and for primary school pupils whose school is more than two miles from their home.

Those services will definitely continue.

In addition, the council has a statutory responsibility to provide free home to school transport to those pupils who are from low income families, for example those children who are eligible for free school meals or whose parent is eligible for the high level working tax credit.

That service will also be unaffected.