EXEC OK’S BUS PLAN
Parents fume at SLC decision
South Lanarkshire Council have been accused of “splitting the community” after plans to increase the distance for free secondary school bus travel were voted through at an executive committee last week.
Councillors voted by 20 to eight for the controversial proposal, which will save the cash-strapped authority £800,000 a year.
The changes will now be introduced as of April 18 next year as opposed to September 29 as originally planned.
An amendment will also see secondary pupils with free school meal entitlement who live more than two miles and up to three miles away from their school to have the opportunity to apply for free transport to school.
Pupils may also be able to continue using free transport for medical reasons, as the result of a safe walking route assessment, or because parents/guardians have chosen to pay in advance for travel on a “privilege” basis.
One Halfway parent, Jackie Sullivan ( 42), warned offering transport to those entitled to free meals would be a divisive policy.
The office manager has two children affected by the plans - Rebecca (12) who already attends Cathkin, and Jamie (10) who will take the step up from Cairns next year.
She said: “This will pit family against family.
“I have a sister whose children will still be eligible while my kids are affected. It simply isn’t right.”
Jackie also blasted the councillors on the executive: “The meeting was a shambles, it was a foregone conclusion this would go ahead.
“It was just Labour battling with the SNP, one side saying one thing and another saying the opposite.
“I really believe it was never going to go any other way.
“I live between Westburn and Newton and there’s not a public bus that goes through here. I am a parent who works and we all struggle with our own budgets, even if there was a bus it would cost me £800 a year to send my kids to school.”
Halfway Community Council chair, John Edgar, said the decision was “very, very disappointing.”
He added: “The council has not listened to the community. Ninetyfour per cent of people were against this but they have gone ahead with it anyway.
“The council spent £14m on taxi’s over the last three years, and there was a proposal to use money from the IT budget that was rejected.
“The council keeps saying it’s the Scottish Government’s fault, but we believe it’s the council’s fault.
“At the end of the day, you can’t have kids stigmatised. It will divide the community.”
Dozens of protestors turned up to demonstrate before last week’s stormy meeting, including Rutherglen and Hamilton West MP, Margaret Ferrier.
Cambuslang East SNP councillor, Christine Deanie, accused the Labour group of showing a disregard for voters.
She said: “This was a safety concern overshadowed by finance and party political point scoring from the chair of the executive.
“We will go to the Scottish Government and see if we can get the legislation changed, but it is up to the ruling group to come up with it. When we see how much money has been found for the equal pay claims, it’s like a bottomless pit.”
However, in a special column for this week’s Reformer, council leader Eddie McAvoy said this was “one of the hardest” decisions he had been forced to take and accused SNP members of opportunism.
He added: “I understand why parents who’ll now have to get their kids to school are upset. And I’ve been in politics long enough to understand why some politicians are taking the chance to score points. But some have been so opportunistic they give even politics a bad name.
“The SNP have lined up to criticise the decision, but none took up our appeal to lobby the Scottish Government to reverse the cut to our grant – or reduce the statutory limit for free school buses to two miles, and fund councils accordingly.
“The 2015/ 16 budget plans, including school bus changes, were clearly set out since November, and SNP members had repeated chances to oppose the proposal and come up with their own costed alternatives. None did.”
Jim Gilhooly, Executive Director of Education Resources, said: “When the Council carried out its extensive consultation with parents, and others, a concern was raised that pupils from less well-off families
At the end of the day you can’t have kids stigmatised. It will divide the community John Edgar
might be disadvantaged because their personal circumstances limit their ability to take advantage of the full range of options open to others.
“That is why councillors agreed to introduce the provision of free bus travel to pupils who qualify for free school meals and who live between two and three miles from their school.
“However, there are a number of factors other than free school meal entitlement which may be the reason for any individual pupil’s use of bus services.”
Fury Angry parents outside council HQ last week