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Kids set to face ‘dangerous’ walks as school bus axe looms

School bus service (Alamy)
School bus service (Alamy)

THOUSANDS of children face “dangerous” walks to school because of council cuts to their bus services.

At the moment, many local authorities offer free transport to pupils living more than two miles from their local secondary school and one from their primary.

But The Sunday Post can reveal several, including Falkirk, Clackmannanshire, Stirling and Inverclyde, are considering increasing the limits.

It’s feared the move, which comes after Finance Secretary John Swinney clobbered councils in last month’s budget, will mean children may have to cross dangerous roads, potentially putting lives at risk.

One parent campaigning against the cuts in the Falkirk area is mum-of-three Michele Cunningham.

The 35-year-old nursery nurse, of Bonnybridge, said: “My eldest daughter, who’s 12, is at secondary school and to get there would have to walk 2.8 miles through an estate and along busy roads.

“She’d have to leave home at half-past seven, maybe even before, if she wants to be on time.

“On a Tuesday and Thursday she finishes late, so in the winter she’d have to walk home in the dark.

“The cars go quite fast down one of the roads, which is dangerous in parts as you’d be lucky to fit one person on the pavement.

“If the cuts go through I’ve no idea what we’ll do.”

Statutory limits set by the Scottish Government mean councils must offer free transport to children over the age of eight living more than three miles from their catchment area school.

Those aged under eight are entitled to a lift if they are more than two miles away.

While the majority of councils offer transport at these levels, around a third, particularly in busy urban areas where road accidents are more frequent, are more generous.

Midlothian and North Lanarkshire give free passes to secondary school students who live more than two miles away.

But, as the Government last month revealed huge cuts to council budgets, several are considering cutting school transport back to minimum statutory levels.

The proposals have angered road safety campaigners.

“While we appreciate councils face making some challenging decisions to save money, they also have a duty to provide children with safe and sustainable ways to get to school,” said Dave Nichols, spokesman for road safety charity Brake.

If the council proposals go ahead, 1,400 pupils in Falkirk could find themselves walking or facing extra transport bills. This would save the authority £350,000.

The situation is similar in Clackmannanshire where pupils get a free bus if they live more than two miles from a secondary school and one mile from a primary school.

Council chiefs are considering bringing these limits up to statutory levels in a bid to cut £220,000 from its transport bill.

Inverclyde Council is also looking to bring its limits either in line with the statutory guidelines or up to 2.5 miles for secondary schools and 1.5 for primaries. This would save the council £370,000.

These limits would be lower for children who receive free school meals, a system in place across many local authorities.

Stirling Council’s education convener, Alistair Berrill, said there were no “specific proposed changes” to its home-to-school transport policy.

But it’s understood it will come under review as part of a wider look at transport expenditure in the region.

“One option is for a strategic review of transport across the organisation as a whole,” said Councillor Berrill.

“It is likely home-to-school transport will be considered as one element of this.”

Changes would affect around 200 kids and save the council an estimated £200,000.

Fife Council said its home-to-school policy was likely to come under scrutiny.

Shelagh McLean, head of education and children’s services, said: “The administration will be producing a draft budget for consideration in January so we are not in a position where we have any definitive budget proposals.

“Changes to home-to-school transport have been raised in previous budget conversations but not accepted.”

Last month, South Lanarkshire Council said it was bringing its home-to-school transport allowance towards national statutory requirements.

Parents of around 400 children at affected schools have joined together to arrange their own bus, which will set them back an extra £520 each year.

Glasgow Council recently did a U-turn on a decision to bring their home-to-school transport back to its original limits of 1.2 miles for primary and 2.2 for secondary students.

“We had a lot of happy families when the decision was made,” said a council spokeswoman.

A spokeswoman from the Scottish Government said the statutory limits were unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.

“Arrangements are for local authorities to determine, but ministers expect them to comply with the law and to keep their policies under review, bearing in mind local context, changing conditions and other circumstances.”

According to research published in 2013, around three children a week die or are seriously injured in accidents near Scots schools.

Glasgow came sixth and Edinburgh 10th in a road safety shame league of cities in the UK with the highest number of adult and child deaths or serious injuries per school area.

Case study

FALKIRK parent and anti-cuts campaigner Caroline Gourlay said parents are “up in arms” about potential cuts.

“Children in outlying villages will be particularly affected by this,” explained Caroline, who lives in Falkirk.

“Schools will see an attendance gap and if children are walking six miles a day, they’ll have less time to do homework and no time for activities.”

She said there were notoriously dangerous roads around Falkirk that the council expected children to walk down.

“What parents are up in arms about is their children’s safety,” Caroline, 40, said.

“There are two busy A-roads which students at Denny High School would have to walk down that are not at all safe,” she explained.

“A car recently turned over on Drove Loan.

“It’s not a road that’s normally walked down so the pavement isn’t great.” She went on to say that the local pressure group has tried to strike up a dialogue with the council, but unfortunately the talks have not progressed very far.

“A lot of us do have sympathy with the local authorities as they’re facing big budget cuts.

“On the other hand they say they need to save money but then propose building a new town hall.”

Lots of parents were “getting angry because the communication isn’t good”, she said.

The council budget proposal documents are accessible on the internet for the public to examine but “even I struggled to find them and I work in IT”, said the mother-of-one.

“With the amount of money they need to cut, a couple of hundred thousand is neither here nor there.

“They should really be looking at more sustainable areas to cut,” Caroline added.