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Tories fail to reverse axe on free travel to faith schools
10:51am Friday 18th January 2013 in News
OPPOSITION councillors have failed to postpone a controversial budget cut which will hit hundreds of families whose children study at faith schools.
Last month, the ruling Labour group voted to stop giving free bus passes, from this September, to children attending faith schools — affecting 846 youngsters.
Families entitled to benefits and those who do not have another available school nearer than their chosen school, will still get free travel.
However, the Conservatives challenged the decision, giving five reasons, at an Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting at the town hall on Tuesday, where about 70 people watched from the public gallery.
Cllr Mike Hankey, who tabled the challenge, argued the change would discriminate against religious people. But Labour proved the change was legally allowed under The Equality Act.
Cllr Hankey argued there had been insufficient consultation ahead of the decision.
Labour Cllr Nick Parnell, who is the council’s schools representative, said 1,062 people responded to a public consultation and the council was satisfied everyone had had their say.
Cllr Hankey said free travel should only be withdrawn from children starting school so parents who were already financially committed were not penalised.
After the meeting, Cllr Parnell said: “We would love to be able to do that, but the reality is the Government keeps moving the goalposts over the council’s budget.
“We do not know what financial position we will be in next year and must make firm decisions now.”
Cllr Hankey said the council could have asked schools or religious institutions to subsidise transport costs.
Cllr Parnell responded: “Some schools have money and if they want to fund transport directly, I would welcome it. They can do that without the council’s assistance.”
Finally, Cllr Hankey said parents with large families should get extra support.
Cllr Parnell said: “That is something I am happy to look at.”
The committee voted for last month’s decision to stand.
“People are asking us to raid the cupboard when the cupboard is bare — and now we are having to throw the cupboard on the bonfire because the council’s financial position is that bad,” said Cllr Parnell.
Cllr Hankey said: “I am disappointed that we could not refer the issue to Full Council, but I was pleased that it was a useful meeting and I thought Cllr Parnell answered the questions well.”