Fight is lost for free transport at Bradford faith schools

Wharfedale Observer: A school service bus in Bradford A school service bus in Bradford

CAMPAIGNERS battling to save free transport for pupils at faith schools lost their fight.

But the chairman of a Catholic school trust blasted Bradford Council for never properly listening to their objections, calling the consultation process "an expensive fait accompli".

The decision to push ahead with the cut was made at a meeting of the Council's executive on Tuesday.

The executive first agreed to the changes in April, but this decision was later examined by a scrutiny committee, which urged senior councillors to reconsider.

But the executive stuck to its original decision, with executive member for children's services, Councillor Ralph Berry, saying budget cuts had left them with little choice.

Parents wanting to send their children to a faith school, or those who live nearest a faith school but want to send their children somewhere else, will now face a £370-a-year bill. Pupils who already receive free transport will not be affected.

Speaking out against the plan was Caroline Hyde, chairman of the Bishop Wheeler Catholic Academy Trust - a group of Catholic schools in the Wharfe Valley which include St Mary’s, Menston, and Sacred Heart Primary, Ilkley.

She said the impression it had all along was that the Council had made its decision ahead of the public consultation.

She said: "I am left greatly disillusioned by the so-called democratic process."

Mrs Hyde said as a volunteer governor, she had been very disappointed to see her objection comments "pulled apart line-by-line by council officers, paid for by my council tax".

And she said she would have far preferred "a co-operative approach", with an open and honest discussion between the local authority and the faith schools about the budget pressures and how they might be tackled.

Councillor Anne Hawkesworth (Ind, Ilkley) told the executive she was not convinced the plan would save money.

She said: "You could actually be shooting yourselves in the foot."

But Cllr Berry said they had to make difficult decisions about whether to fund the discretionary transport service, or education social workers or special needs workers instead.

He said: "It's not something that anybody would have chosen to do, but faced with the priorities we have at the moment, I believe this is the most equitable way forward, bearing in mind the demands that we have on our services."

Cllr Berry said to his knowledge, no other local authority continued to pay for transport for pupils at faith schools.

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