Par­ents fume at SLC de­ci­sion

Rutherglen Reformer - - Front Page - Dou­glas Dickie Read Ed­die McAvoy’s full

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

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