By Sam Rkaina, Local Government Reporter
FREE transport for children attending faith schools is to be scrapped, despite overwhelming opposition from the people who use the service.
Bristol City Council will begin phasing out the service from September 2012, so those that currently use it will still be able to for the coming school year.
But the council needs to make budget cuts as part of it’s four year, £70 million savings programme.
Costing more than £440,000 a year, the council currently provides free travel for all students attending their nearest faith school if it is beyond walking distance.
The service is provided to all, regardless of family income, even though there may be other nearer schools.
Critics would say it is unfair, giving a free service that children who attend schools that aren’t based around faith are denied.
Some children will still qualify for free transport if they meet certain criteria, including having free school meals, a disability or special needs.
The council’s most recent figures show that 9,643 pupils faith schools in the city, around two thirds at primary schools and the rest at secondary.
Of these, 1,071 received supported travel, with all but two coming from secondary schools.
Consultation with parents showed that 89 per cent were against scrapping the service, going up to 95 per cent for those with children starting at a faith school this year.
Most objections were about the financial implications for scrapping the service, and the lack of decent public transport for their schools.
St Bede’s Catholic College in Lawrence Weston and St Bernadette Catholic Secondary in Whitchurch are particularly badly served according to the council.
The consultation results also showed that some parents were willing to have their children apply for schools outside the authority if the scheme was abandoned.
The Liberal Democrat cabinet will make a final decision at their meeting next Thursday.
A report from officers to councillors said that it ultimately comes down to money.
It states: “The home to school travel budget is under considerable pressure.
“Within the current economic climate there is a need to ensure that the service is managed within the allocated budget.
“Overspends in the budget divert resources from other potentially high priority areas to deliver elements of non-statutory provision.
“Simply increasing the budget allocation to the service is not possible without impacting on other essential service areas.”