Falkirk Council: Tories and Labour refuse to support school bus cuts
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If the changes go ahead in August, more than 1000 pupils would lose their entitlement to a free season ticket and up to 33 school buses could be axed, leaving hundreds of pupils without transport, even if they wanted to pay for it.
Falkirk Council has now closed a consultation on the proposals and say they will listen carefully to all of the feedback before putting forward any final proposal to a meeting of the education, children and young people executive at the end of May.
The consultation included meetings at Braes High, St Mungo’s, Grangemouth and Denny High Schools, where many angry parents voiced their concerns about pupil safety if the cut goes ahead.
The Labour group on Falkirk Council has already said they will not support the planned changes and Independent councillors have also spoken out against the plans.
The Conservative group support would be vital for the proposal to pass – but they have now made it clear they will not do so without mitigating the effects the proposal will have on the environment and pupil safety.
Councillor James Bundy, the Conservative group’s environment spokesperson, said: “It is vitally important that children within the Falkirk Council area have safe access to schools. Yes, we have a duty to balance our budget, but this cannot come at the expense of children’s safety.
“As a practising Catholic, it is vitally important that the council continues to support parents who send their children to a Catholic school. It is also equally as important that the Council supports parents who live near Catholic schools but want to send their child to a non-denominational school.
“Not only is Catholic education protected in Scots law, but Freedom of Religion or Belief is protected by the Humans Right Act 1998 through being Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights. This clearly states that no-one should be discriminated against because of their religion or lack-of.
“Protecting Scotland’s natural landscape and maintaining our nation’s natural beauty should also be a political priority. When looking at environmental policy, the council cannot simply look at our own internal emissions.
“We must look at area-wide emissions. In the context of home-to-school transport, we must consider if the reduction of carbon emissions we see with a reduction of buses will be replaced by higher car usage, and we must judge if this will actually see higher rates of carbon-emissions.
“If we are serious about our environmental targets as a council, we cannot support a policy which will result in higher carbon-emissions.”
The leader of the Labour group, Councillor Anne Hannah, says they have been opposed to the cuts in home to school transport since they were first put forward.
She said: “We opposed the SNP budget which the Tories supported on March 1. The SNP budget for 2023-2024 – supported by the Tories – included the assumption that the home to school transport cuts would be made, saving £650,000 in 2023-2024. The closure of four school swimming pools was in the same budget – involving a saving of £250,000.
“We are glad that the Tories have changed their minds, but they cannot now claim credit for opposing the cuts they supported in the first place.
“Falkirk Labour supports the concerns of parents and carers – children should not be expected to trudge through rain and wind, up and down hills, and across busy roads, for an hour every morning plus an hour after school closes.
“How can they concentrate on their learning when they are soaked to the skin and tired? Parents who may have more than one child attending different schools cannot accompany them to get them all to school in time. The health and safety of our children has to be a top priority.
“The cuts proposal was ill thought out from the start and was opposed by Falkirk Labour and the Independent Councillors. At least the Tories have realised that at last. Let us hope that once the SNP Administration sees the results of the consultation, they will agree with us and find other ways to save money.”
The SNP leader of Falkirk Council, Councillor Cecil Meiklejohn, says her group will wait to see the final report before commenting.
She said: “Currently children’s services are collating all the feedback following the consultation process, which will include all concerns raised. This will then be reported back along with officers’ recommendation including any mitigating actions that may be required to elected members at the education, children and young people’s Executive at the end of May for decision.
“Without having all the information before us it would be inappropriate to make any comment on any possible outcome at this stage.”
The consultation began in February when Falkirk Council said it needed to save £63 million over the next four years.
They stressed that soaring costs for transport saw the bill for school buses go £750,000 over budget this year and stressed that what they are now planning to offer is still more than they are legally obliged to provide.