MPs slam plans to axe free transport

PUBLISHED: 12:58 01 June 2006 | UPDATED: 10:14 06 May 2010

Oliver Heald MP – “Choice would be diminished for many parents”

Oliver Heald MP - "Choice would be diminished for many parents"

MPs have joined headteachers and parents in denouncing council plans to scrap free transport for children attending faith schools. Oliver Heald, MP for Hertfordshire North East, and Peter Lilley, MP for Hitchin and Harpenden, are just two of nine MPs who

Peter Lilley MP

MPs have joined headteachers and parents in denouncing council plans to scrap free transport for children attending faith schools.

Oliver Heald, MP for Hertfordshire North East, and Peter Lilley, MP for Hitchin and Harpenden, are just two of nine MPs who have written collectively to Hertfordshire County Council's chief executive Caroline Tapster.

They have expressed their concerns about plans by the council to scrap the current system of free transport for children attending faith schools.

The council believes the move will bring faith schools in line with non-faith schools and will save approximately £400,000 a year for the first six years while the system is phased out. This money will be pumped back into education.

At the moment the council is in the middle of a public consultation, which ends on June 9, but MPs urging the council to reconsider will bring hope to those supporters who do not want the system to be changed.

Mr Heald said: "We believe in parents having a choice of diverse and high quality schools. By ending the funding of transport in respect of faith schools, this choice would be diminished for many parents."

Mr Heald said that faith-based schools provide an excellent quality of education and they do so by "maintaining their own ethos because the vast majority of families share the same faith.

"In the event of this policy coming into effect, many schools will find it very difficult to maintain this characteristic because children not living in the immediate vicinity of the school will no longer be able to attend."

The MPs also stated that faith schools make a financial contribution to local education by paying 10 per cent of capital costs and by usually providing the school site which would otherwise have to be paid for by the council tax payers.

In another show of opposition to the proposals, Liberal Democrat county councillors have started a petition objecting to the "wording, timing and method of the consultation."

David Lloyd, executive member for education, said although he welcomed opinions from all sides MPs had no direct input in the decision.

He said: "The reason we go to consultation is that we get a wide set of views. The reason we're consulting on it is that we think it is an idea worth considering.

"Colleagues in Parliament are important people but they do not have a direct vote on it."

The council is keen to point out that all children who attend their nearest school, faith or not, will still qualify for free transport if they live more than three miles away, or two miles away if they are under eight.

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