Mak­ing kids walk save the coun­cil

Wishaw Press - - FRONT PAGE -

Par­ents are be­ing asked for their views on a coun­cil plan to re­duce pupils’ el­i­gi­bil­ity for free school trans­port.

A con­tro­ver­sial con­sul­ta­tion ex­er­cise be­gan on Mon­day over the pro­pos­als which would change the qual­i­fy­ing cri­te­ria for pupils liv­ing more than two miles from their catch­ment pri­mary school and three miles from sec­on­daries.

Chang­ing the cur­rent lim­its of one and two miles re­spec­tively would save around £2.4 mil­lion

Con­sul­ta­tion on the pro­posal – af­fect­ing nearly three-quar­ters of pri­mary pupils cur­rently in re­ceipt of free trans­port and al­most half of their high school coun­ter­parts – was given the go- ahead only af­ter a cast­ing vote was re­quired at a tense coun­cil ed­u­ca­tion com­mit­tee meet­ing last week.

Both the SNP and Con­ser­va­tive groups re­jected the pro­posal re­lat­ing to pri­mary pupils, mean­ing the com­mit­tee vote was tied at 17-17.

That saw con­vener Frank McNally, of the Labour abour mi­nor­ity ad­min­is­tra­tion, break­ing the e dead­lock by y us­ing his vote to o de­cide that the e con­sul­ta­tion n should take place.

The sec­ondary y con­sul­ta­tion was s given the go-ahead d by 21 votes to 13, , as Con­ser­va­tive e mem­bers lent their r sup­port to car­ry­ing g out the ex­er­cise in n re­la­tion to the older er chil­dren.

The con­sul­ta­tion n runs un­til Jan­uary 9.

SNP group leader er David Stocks said: d: “We felt we shouldn’t n’t be look­ing for these se sav­ings from young chil­dren; we have to try to find them else­where.

“We didn’t want to change any­thing in re­la­tion to pri­mary or high school trans­port. The Con­ser­va­tives voted with our amend­ment on the pri­mary trans­port and it went to the cast­ing vote.”

Group ed­u­ca­tion spokesman Tom Johnston added: “I find it ap­palling that Labour are con­sid­er­ing mak­ing five- year- olds walk two miles to school and im­pos­ing a three-mile walk on sec­ondary pupils.

“No thought is be­ing given to sin­gle par­ents in em­ploy­ment, par­ents with chil­dren at­tend­ing two dif­fer­ent schools, young chil­dren of work­ing par­ents, and those with no car.

“School trans­port is im­por­tant for en­sur­ing pupils ar­rive on time; forc­ing young chil­dren to walk will only in­crease traf­fic dangers at the school gate.

“Labour is the only party con­sid­er­ing mak­ing five-year-olds walk two miles – both the SNP and the Tories re­ject this.

“I think the split com­mit­tee vote means the pri­mary changes won’t go through; up­roar from par­ents will quickly sink this ill thought-out pro­posal.”

Con­ser­va­tive group leader Meghan Gal­lacher said: “We be­lieve that pri­mary chil­dren should have school trans­port for health and safety rea­sons and pro­tec­tion of young peo­ple – the first thing we thought of was the is­sue of kids as young as four or five mak­ing their own way to school.

“Our group read the SNP amend­ment [ re­ject­ing the con­sul­ta­tion] and felt we could sup­port it as it mir­rored how we felt in re­la­tion to pri­mary trans­port.

“We felt the high school pro­posal could go to con­sul­ta­tion but that doesn’t mean that the de­ci­sion is made.

“There are clear fi­nan­cial pres­sures but we feel you can’t put a price on young chil­dren’s safety.” Coun­cil leader Jim L Logue , pic pic­tured, said: “I “It’s sim­ply fo for fi­nan­cial re rea­sons that we’re be­ing f o rc e d to lo look at this, Se S e vent e en c coun­cils ha have al­ready d done this or ha have dif­fer­ent per­mu­ta­tions and only a very small num­ber have one and twom mile lim­its.

“If it’s not ac­cepted then that £ £2.4m has to be­foundelse­where­inth be found else­where in the ed­u­ca­tion bud­get, over 50 per cent of which is al­ready ring-fenced.

“It’s a dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion and the bud­get is more chal­leng­ing than ever be­fore.”

Re­duc­ing el­i­gi­bil­ity for free school trans­port has been considered and re­jected in pre­vi­ous North La­nark­shire bud­gets; the au­thor­ity cur­rently pro­vides free trans­port for more than 8000 pupils, with the bud­get for this year amount­ing to £5.5 mil­lion

A re­port for coun­cil­lors projects that 1916 pri­mary and 2670 sec­ondary pupils would be af­fected by a re­duc­tion in the en­ti­tle­ment to trans­port, with 723 and 2838 re­spec­tively re­main­ing el­i­gi­ble – and adds: “It should be noted that this pro­posal does not af­fect the trans­port ar­range­ments for pupils with ad­di­tional sup­port needs.”

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