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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Rochdale Council consulting on scrapping “faith school” transport subsidies

Labour-controlled Rochdale Borough Council in Lancashire is under pressure from religious groups and Conservative councillors as it prepares to launch a consultation on whether to scrap subsidies for transport to religious schools.

The Council’s latest proposals would see the subsidies ended in September 2013.

At present, 1,448 pupils receive discretionary bus passes from the council, 1,141 of these pupils attend so-called “faith schools”. By implementing the cuts, the Council could save £250,000 a year.

Councillor Dale Mulgrew said that there should be exemptions for children travelling to religious schools. He said: “As this proposal in the main unfairly affects one particular catchment group, it has to be amended to reflect a fairer deal for the faith families of Rochdale and I call on the Labour Cabinet to look at this again.”

“In other Greater Manchester authorities, there is an exemption for faith pupils, so why cannot Rochdale follow suit? Otherwise, a two tier system is created. Families just above the low income eligibility will be deprived access to their preferred faith school because of the extra cost they will have to bear. This potentially could create an education apartheid by the Labour cabinet which would be outrageous in 2011.”

Councillor Teresa Fitzsimons echoed Councillor Mulgrew’s concerned. She said: “I am very concerned. As a Conservative opposition spokesperson and a past Cabinet Member for Children, Schools and Families I think this is a very discriminatory proposal.”

Cheryl Eastwood, Executive Director at Rochdale Borough Council, said: “We are writing to parents this week to explain the proposals, and organising drop-in sessions where people can feedback. Anyone wishing to comment can also have their say at www.rochdale.gov.uk/yourviews or call in to their library, council customer service centre or township office.”

Children could still qualify under statutory arrangements if they are from a low income family and the school is among the nearest to them, or if it is the child’s nearest school, but beyond the statutory walking distance.

Terry Sanderson, President of theNational Secular Society, said: “Conservative councillors argue that removing subsidies for a particular, privileged section of the community is discriminatory. On the contrary, it is clearly discriminatory to deny transport subsidies to a large section of the community, while giving them to a minority.”

Published Fri, 30 Sep 2011