Authority ‘must be careful’ over cuts

MAYOR Stuart Drummond said the council has to be “careful” in its drive to make budget cuts.

Mayor Drummond wanted to retain the status quo in light of fresh information presented to the cabinet since the original decision was taken including the impact on St Teresa’s RC Primary School.

Independent councillor Paul Thompson admitted he was “frustrated” by the consultation and said it hadn’t been very well thought through, adding he was “wholeheartedly” in favour of supporting the faith transport.

Independent councillor John Lauderdale said he didn’t think it fair that one school should have free transport over another in town.

But Mayor Drummond said: “Sometimes as a council we have to be careful in the drive to make savings and really take time to reflect the impact it has on people.

“We all know the financial situation we are in, but some things are more important.”

He added: “I am of the view that we keep the status quo and ask officers to come back with proposals to find the £133,000.”

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

A council report revealed the majority of North East councils had no changes planned, and the small number that did were using a phased approach.

Transport on the grounds of religion or belief under Section 509 of the Education Act 1996 is provided on a discretionary basis, which means it either doesn’t need to be implemented or can be discontinued.

A report read by Sally Robinson, assistant director of safeguarding and specialist services, said: “The current arrangements, whilst being popular, are discretionary and the council is not under a statutory duty to maintain such an arrangement.”

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 and for primary school pupils whose school is more than two miles from their home.

Transport is also made available for those pupils who are from low income families.