Monday, 1 October 2012

Withdrawel of the 6B school bus threatens childrens safety and education

Last week, County Councillor Ciaran Wells, Hyndburn Council Leader Miles Parkinson and I met with worried parents concerned about the withdrawal of the 6B school bus to St Wilfred's by Lancashire United/Transdev.

At that meeting Transdev agreed to review the service and have taken the decison to continue it whilst a financial solution is found for the loss making service. I have written to the County Council today to press the points made by parents.
The business manager of Lancashire United/Transdev following the meeting has stated;
" I am not prepared to see parents and children suffer. You may be aware that I have decided to reinstate the bus from Accrington via Great Harwood and Rishton. [However the] funding is only for two months so the issue may not go away but Lancashire United will do its best.

Ours was a perfectly legitimate commercial decision which we are entitled to make. It remains my view that this is a matter for either or both of the two LEAs, although I actually think this is an LCC issue. However as neither authority appears to want to take any ownership [of the loss making route], it seems to be left to us."
The problem is the withdrawel of some faith bases bus subsidies for schools that are not the nearest school.
The reality for Hyndburn students is that St Christopher's was heavily oversubscribed and for many parents the first ‘real’ choice of school CoE school, the nearest school was St Wilfreds in Blackburn.
Historically, Transdev had initially run an extension service to the Hyndburn Circular but timetabling forced them to switch to an extension of their Manchester service. This caused problems so for the last two years they have run a stand alone in-out service at a cost last year of £36,000. Despite being full, Transdev state that this service has not paid it’s way and it has been withdrawn with Hyndburn/Lancashire pupils left high and dry.

The consequence of this is two fold; safety through a particularly dubious high crime area and the travel to school time is now two hours both ways (four hours in total) with delays leading to absence marks and exhausted students whose education is being undermined.

The school day now starts at 6.30 am leaving for the bus at 7am and arriving at school just before 9am having taken the regular and overcrowded Hyndburn circular with adults going to work. This is causing friction in itself. At Blackburn Boulevard they have two choices, wait for the No. 4 bus (which they may miss) or walk down Preston Old Road through what many describe as a red light district, statistically a higher crime area.

At its best, it is a tiring journey and undermines a student’s ability to learn. At worst these young children are being placed in a vulnerable position. Asking children to switch schools part way through term and all the trauma that brings because of a withdrawn bus service seems grossly unfair and a wholly disproportionate response.

Transdev have agreed to temporarily put on a service but this will be withdrawn without financial assistance. St Wilfred’s are willing to pay £6,000 and parents willing to pay a much higher fare. Given that many parents were denied access to St Christopher’s because it was so oversubscribed, a school whose reputation allows it to have an intake from across East Lancashire, the nearest school is St Wilfred’s. This is a unique situation. Unique in the generator of the problem (St Christopher’s catchment and popularity) and unique in the severe consequences.
Transdev/Lancashire United have respondd by saying
"There are two main reasons why [we are] replacing the service. The first and the main one is that [we] will not see children and parents suffer. Clearly the two local authorities will not take any responsibility, even if it is shared between all three of us. Someone has to take some responsibility and while I maintain that it this issue is not solely ours as a bus operator to own, we will do what the Local Authorities should in my view, be doing."
I have written to the the County Council to urge them consider subsidising this service and help provide dozens of children with the education they disserve. Transdev are looking to revert to an extension of the Hyndburn Circular and I cannot see any subsidy exceeding the subsidy the County offers for other services.

Lancashire County Council should review this unique issue very closely and bare in mind the young vulnerable children for whom this decision will have a considerable negative impact.