As Councillor Manford, with the support of his SNP colleagues, continues to fight for openness and transparency on safe roads, the Comhairle’s decision to implement the Home to School Transport policy has been little more than a shambles.
Way back in the early throes of the new council, the SNP group put forward the following amendment to the policy:
“To delay consideration of implementing the policy, in order to properly define each safe route to school and to closer examine the savings or benefits.”
This amendment would have inevitably incurred a cost to the council’s finances which needed to come from somewhere. The SNP Group suggested that the costs could be met from the unexpected BCCI dividend of £1,100.000 that had recently been announced.
In order to allow the “Road Safety” debate, standing orders had to be suspended and unfortunately, the SNP Group were the only councillors to vote to debate the issue. The remaining councillors voted to retain standing orders and therefore end the debate whether roads should be assessed for safety first.
A member of the Education Committee remarked that the policy would bring about a cottage industry for appeals.
At the time, a lot of representations had been made by concerned parents about this school transport intention. They expressed worry about the routes their children would have to walk – lack of pavements, lack of lighting, ditches being the only possibility when facing oncoming traffic.
A policy, that may have been implemented on the mainland but has not considered the unique situation that the islands are in, is bound to create a multitude of problems.
The weather should have also been considered – we can see how quickly weather changes and expecting children to walk from the top of Bakers Road or Newvalley or Marybank on such a day is just not fair.
Had we been able to look at the way other councils have dealt with the issue, we would have pointed to the Argyll and Bute council where they have shown leadership in the issue and stated that each road is assessed and the results of the assessment whether deemed safe or unsafe are “communicated” to the public very clearly on their website with reasons given.
Also, was consideration given to the Education (Scotland) Act 1996 which amends the 1980 Act by requiring that :
“when education authorities are considering whether to make any arrangements for the provisions of school transport for pupils attending school, they must have regard to the safety of these pupils.”
It is with deep regret that parents have had to face intimidating appeals to protect their children and I am sure that the council does not want any child undertaking any activity that places them at risk – walking to school is no different.
Surely, the council should have put away party politics and voted with the SNP Group to debate the issue and maybe that would avoided the anxiety for parents and also the mounting costs to the taxpayer of the appeals process.