Monday, 13 February 2012

Mums Protest As Four Year Olds Forced to Travel Alone

I keep stumbling across new and obscure ways in which the government's austerity measures – at least, those in relation to local government funding – are having unforeseen and definitely unpleasant effects on the public.

I've already blogged about how the elderly and the young appear to be suffering the most from the various budget cuts, service cuts and reductions in service being implemented across the country. Now, however, its seems that the relatively affluent mums of leafy rural Warwickshire are suffering too. And they don't like it.

(Honestly, you wait for ages for a story about Warwickshire, then two come along together...)

A group of mums from a group of villages near Banbury claim that they will soon be forced to drive their children to school if Warwickshire Council Council presses ahead with their plans to end their bus escort service.

If the Conservative-run council gets its way, then from next week children as young as four will have to travel unsupervised on a 45-minute bus journey to school.

Drivers from a newly-contracted bus company will be required to look after up to 40 children from villages around Shotteswell unaided on the daily journey to school in Fenny Compton. The mums are not best pleased.

“I cannot put my four-year-old on the bus at 8.20am to get to school at 9am without an adult assistant,” says one. “I want to know the driver is concentrating on the roads rather than a child who is ill, upset or quarrelling.

“I will have to drive him, which is bad for the environment, for Fenny Compton in terms of traffic and for Jack’s independence.”

Local parish councillor Val Ingram asked: “Who will make sure the children do up their seat belts, or remember to take their lunches and bags with them?”

The council's decision to end bus escorts, which is expected to realise savings of about £700,000 a year by 2017, is part of a plan to save money – a plan that will also see bus passes going up in price. Four of Warwickshire's primary schools lost their bus escorts in September last year and seven more, including this one, are due to end this month.

So, none of us are immune from the government's cuts after all and we really are, as the Prime Minister once claimed, 'in it together'. Well, no. I'm a parent myself and can understand and sympathise with this group of worried and angry mums. But if you'd forgive me for sounding just a tad uncharitable, at least these mums have cars, whereas people in much less wealthy areas – as well as the elderly and the young – often don't.

What is interesting, though, is that this area is very much the epitome of the Tory shires, and I'm prepared to bet that those who did vote Tory at the last general election didn't think they were voting for cuts that would effect them quite so forcibly.

The Conservatives currently hold a sizeable majority on Warwickshire County Council – but I suspect there could be a number of councillors sleeping a lot less easy in their beds ahead of the next local elections on 4 May.

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