Public meeting with council officers discusses school bus pass anger

6 August

East Keswick Parish Council hosted a public meeting in the Village Hall last night to discuss mounting concern over zero fare bus passes in the village.

Local ward councillor Matthew Robinson chaired the meeting alongside East Keswick Parish Councillors Gaynor Anning (Chairman), Andy Batty (Vice Chair) and Becky Holdsworth.

A number of parents from East Keswick and others from Bardsey attended to put their concerns to two Leeds City Council officers responsible for administering a new tighter policy which many branded as unfair and unreasonable.

John Bradshaw (Contracts Manager, Childrens Services), Paul Bollam (Head of Service Commissioning Market Management) explained that Leeds City Council were having to look at all areas of expenditure including bus passes. Previously, where parents found there was no school within three miles then the council provided a zero fare bus pass to any other school in the area. Now the policy has been changed to only apply to the nearest school. The problem in local villages is that the two main schools used – Wetherby and Boston Spa – are roughly equidistant from the village. Measurements on Googlemaps are showing that Boston Spa is nearer than Wetherby High. Leeds City Council’s own schools websites have featured maps showing that Boston is the recommended nearest school for the majority of the village, however Leeds is now using a different mapping system – not in the public domain – to evaluate which is the nearest school and this, council officers claimed, identify Wetherby High as the nearest one.

Parish Councillors explained that village parents were understandably angry that they had chosen a school on Leeds Council advice that it was nearest and therefore carried a zero fare entitlement, only to be now told when their child was part way through schooling that the other school was nearer perhaps by as little as 50 yards and therefore their zero fare entitlement was withdrawn. The Leeds Council officers said the measurements were going down to the exact distance – perhaps down to feet and inches. many parents voiced that moving a child part way through their schooling was unfair. Several said Wetherby would not have space for them in the first place and that at least those part way through school should be able to stay in their present school with their existing travel arrangements.

For many parents with more than one schoolchild the extra cost (at least £9.50 per child per week) was a huge burden on the family budget. Some parents had appealed but found it to be time consuming and stressful and potentially needing repeating every year. Councillor Batty said that even the £9.50 per week was higher than FirstBus charged for a week pass.

Councillor Batty continued that surely a common sense solution would be to apply a margin of tolerance where two potential schools were within 0.1m (176 yards) difference in distance.

Ward Councillor Robinson challenged the council officers on the suggestion that government cutbacks were to blame stating that the government might have reduced funding for local authorities but it was not telling councils were to make specific cuts and particularly ones deemed to be unfair.

Over ninety minutes of lively debate parents mentioned that the number of villagers present would have been at least double if holidays and short notice were not to have affected matters. Cycling and walking were shown to be unfeasable as a solution and many commented that the route to either school involved A class unlit roads without pavements and 50 or 60mph limits.

Council officers promised that those parents raising similar concerns to successful appellants would not have to go through the appeals process and that concerns raised by parents would be taken back to senior colleagues. Matthew Robinson said he would be watching this case carefully, respond to each parent present, and lobby the council until the policy was changed in favour of a fairer one.