ON December 6 I attended an ’open and public’ meeting held at Thomas a Becket High School to discuss Wakefield Council’s proposal to remove free bus passes for Catholic families.
At that meeting the council was ably represented by Coun Rowley who clearly and articulately presented the cabinet’s reasons for wanting to save upwards of £300,000 per year by removing the transport subsidy for those wishing to travel to Faith schools outside their area.
As this subsidy has, apparently, been in place since the 1944 Education Act one can only guess at the millions of pounds that have been taken from the wider community and given to this narrow section simply because of their beliefs.
In its consultation document Wakefield justifies its proposals ‘as part of the drive to ensure equity and make the most efficient use of resources in the current financial climate’. The council is faced with cuts of over £60m over the term of this parliament, so the resources argument is obvious; what may not be so clear to your readers is the unfairness of the current situation.
Parents who would like their children to be educated at a specialist college which is outside their area (a language college, for instance, for a student living in Hemsworth), do not get a transport subsidy unless they belong to a low income group. The parents have to foot the bill. Why, then, should a family benefit from subsidised transport just because they subscribe to a particular belief system when a family which chooses a school for sound educational reasons is denied this privilege?
The council is to be applauded for proposing this change in the interests of fairness to all in our communities, regardless of their beliefs, and deserves the support of all your readers, though this was a view that fell on stony ground at the public meeting at Becket. There the only person to get up in a room bursting with opponents of the proposals and speak in favour of the council was heckled and instructed by the chair to sit down.
It appears there may be further consultation on this issue in the new year and I would urge your readers to respond in favour of the changes so that the few no longer benefit financially at the expense of the many.