DELIGHTED parents applauded councillors after plans to bring back free school buses for more than 1,000 schoolkids were given the green light.
For the past two years, mums, dads and children have campaigned for the reinstatement of free transport for secondary school pupils who live between two and three miles from their classrooms.
The buses were stopped by the previous SNP-Lib Dem administration at Renfrewshire Council in January 2010, with their Labour rivals vowing to overturn that decision if they won power at the local government elections in May.
Now they have kept their promise – with free transport to be back in place by the time schools return from the summer break in August.
Sandra Ross, chair of the Parent Council at St Benedict’s High School, in Linwood, spearheaded the campaign and said she is “over the moon” at the decision.
She told the Paisley Daily Express: “The campaign has taken up a big part of my life but this makes it all worthwhile.
“The kids will be safe, which is the main thing.”
A mum from Spateston, in Johnstone, who has two sons at St Benedict’s High but who did not want to be named, added: “It wasn’t the distance we were fighting about, it was safety.
“I’m delighted the buses are being brought back.”
The decision to bring back free transport will cost Renfrewshire Council around £520,000 a year.
Councillor Jacqueline Henry, Renfrewshire’s education convener, said: “Before introducing this change, we spoke to parents and teachers about the social, educational, environmental and financial benefits of bringing free school transport back to its former level.
“Bringing back free transport to schools will mean a significant investment by the council in these financially-difficult times. We are going beyond the minimum legal requirement for school transport because we want to support pupils, schools and hard-pressed families across Renfrewshire.”
Currently, 1,400 secondary school pupils who live at least three miles away from school receive free transport to lessons in Renfrewshire, as do 1,200 primary pupils who live one mile or more from their classrooms.
Now an extra 1,058 secondary pupils will be entitled to free transport.
The council has also made an exception to the application of the “safe walking routes” policy to reinstate school transport for the routes between Johnstone and St Benedict’s High and to Rashielea Primary School, in Erskine.
That means an extra 73 pupils at Rashielea will now qualify to have free transport to school reinstated.
However, former education convener Councillor Lorraine Cameron has criticised Labour’s decision.
The SNP woman said: “The money that is being spent on this could pay for 13 teachers or 35 classroom assistants. Parents from schools who aren’t going to benefit from school transport may have a different view on what this money should be spent on.
“Both St Benedict’s High and Rashielea Primary are being treated as exceptions. We don’t have any idea how many parents or children will challenge this policy, so the council has no idea how much this could eventually cost.”
Former council leader Brian Lawson added: “There’s no such thing as a free school bus, it has to be paid for.
“I am quite uncomfortable making an exception for certain schools. We are creating a situation of discrimination where some pupils are being treated differently from others.
“Labour are just doing this because it’s popular – but that doesn’t mean it’s right.”