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School transport fund is scrapped despite warnings of "splitting communities"

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A controversial proposal to scrap a council transport fund which helps pay for pupils to get to school has been unanimously approved, despite warnings from villagers and councillors it would “split communities.”

At a West Berkshire Council meeting held last night (Thursday) councillors agreed to remove the fund which pays for school transport for some pupils attending their catchment school which is not their nearest school.

The decision means that from September 2016 any fresh applications to make use of the transport fund for secondary school children attending a school that is within their catchment area but not the geographically closest would be stopped.

Currently the service is used by approximately 390 pupils out of a total schools cohort of 11,500 pupils.

Speaking at the meeting last night in which the decision was made Hilary Cole (Con, Chieveley) said that her ward was affected by the change more than most.

She said: “It splits the ward in two. I have had more phone calls and e-mails about this than I have had for a long time.

“I understand totally the need to make savings but it does cause problems in my ward and I feel I would be failing them if I did not point that out.”

The council said that scrapping the policy would make savings of between £57,000 and £90,000 each year depending on parents choices.

Many villagers were opposed to the proposal, and last month Curridge parent Jane Sirs brought a 163-strong petition against the measures to Chieveley parish councillors, who in turn added their voice to opposition and voted to object to the plans.

In a letter to West Berkshire Council she warned that getting rid of the fund could end up splitting communities.

Following Thursday’s decision, Chairman of Chieveley Parish Council Rob Crispin said: “We are obviously disappointed from the Parish Council point of view and for all of the families.”

Executive member for education Dominic Boeck said: “Every decision to make a cut to a service is extremely difficult but the current economic climate dictates the need to make savings where possible.”

He added that there was good news, however, and said: “Even with the changes to the service, the council is still offering heavily subsidised fares at a total cost of £250 a year which over the 190 school days costs just £1.32 per return journey per day.”

For the full story and all of the reaction pick up a copy of next week’s Newbury Weekly News.

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