Opinions wanted on free school transport

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Public talks are due to get underway in the Wakefield district next week on the future of free school transport for five- to 16-year-olds attending faith schools.

It will collect public views on a proposal to withdraw discretionary home to school transport on the basis of religion and belief from September 2013.

Wakefield Council has no statutory obligation to provide this service – except for families on low incomes – and the provision is being reviewed as the council continues to look at ways to save £67m in the next three years.

Elaine McHale, the council’s corporate director for family services, said no decision would be taken until after the outcome of the consultation with parents, schools and transport companies.

She said: “The council is facing some very difficult decisions in making the savings we have to make by 2014. While we understand that attendance at a faith school is extremely important for many families, we must also look at whether we can afford to continue this free service in our current financial circumstances.

“But first of all it is important for us to speak to those parents, schools and transport providers who would be directly affected and no decision will be taken until we have done so.”

Currently 778 children receive this entitlement – 630 via a free bus pass for use on public transport and the remainder on school buses provided by the council.

The children affected mostly attend St Wilfrid’s Catholic High School, St Thomas a Becket Catholic High School, St Austin’s Catholic Primary, Holy Family & St Michael’s Catholic Primary School and St Joseph’s Catholic Primary in Pontefract, with a small number attending other faith schools.

A report will be presented to the council’s cabinet committee in the new year following the public consultation.

The consultation is due to start on Monday, October 31 and will run until December 9.