Today it is the warning from the County Councils Network that local authorities simply don’t have enough money to fund free school transport for eligible pupils because the costs are, by their very nature, much greater in rural areas where fewer students invariably have to travel greater distances in order to attend lessons. Yet it could just as easily have been post office closures. Or banks. Or health services. Or libraries. Or courts. Or public transport (where still in existence). Or police manpower. Or any other service that has been dramatically scaled back due to cost pressures. And so it goes on.
Contrary to political perception, the countryside is not a glorified theme park. Its challenges – social, political and economic – are myriad. And picture- postcard scenery invariably masks pockets of poverty, particularly amongst some farming families.
However, while students in many parts of the country can make their own transport arrangements and even walk or cycle to school, this is not so practical in areas, like the Yorkshire Dales or North York Moors. Their parents will already be working long hours, particularly those involved in agriculture, and the political focus has, understandably, been safeguarding the future of larger schools, particularly at secondary level. The consequence is vast catchment areas which make free school transport an imperative – and a right.
After all, rural residents are taxpayers too – a point that the Government continues to neglect at its peril. Perhaps it’s now time for a dedicated Minister for the Countryside.