Furious Pytchley parent blasts council's school bus disregard

A parent left in limbo because the county council failed to acknowledge his request for a school bus pass says the situation is "disgraceful".

By Sam Wildman
Monday, 30th September 2019, 7:22 pm
Mark's queries to the council have gone unanswered.
Mark's queries to the council have gone unanswered.

Mark Ferguson, 49, decided to send his son, who he did not want to name, to Bishop Stopford School in Kettering to sit his A-Levels after he received his GCSE results in late August.

On September 5 Pytchley man Mark - whose house is a 2.5-mile walk away from the Headlands school - applied for a free school bus pass for his son.

He did so because both routes into town involve walking along busy roads with no footpaths for about three-quarters of a mile and are unsafe for pedestrians, something which Mark says makes his son eligible under Department for Education guidance.

But almost one month on his emails to the council and Kier have gone unanswered, meaning he has had to cut work meetings short to transport his son or pay for him to use the bus.

The PR firm owner said: "If I decided not to pay part of my council tax I would hear from them straight away.

"I think it's absolutely disgraceful. I know they are busy people, I know they have got many problems, but what is the point in paying our taxes if they don't even have the decency to reply in a month?"

All of Mark's four children have previously been given bus passes by the county council. Neither the council's school transport team or their post-16 travel website were able to take Mark's son's circumstances into account.

If he is not granted a bus pass for his son it would cost the Fergusons £600.

The council is still yet to respond to Mark but did respond to the Northants Telegraph when approached for comment.

Cllr Jason Smithers, Northamptonshire County Council cabinet member for highways, said: “The council’s guidance notes to parents applying for a bus pass also makes clear that if a seat is applied for before the third Friday of the month of May before the start of the new academic year, a seat will be guaranteed.

“However later applications will be subject to availability and will not be considered until after the first two weeks of the new academic year.

“Our records show that Mr Ferguson applied later than May 17 and so now is being considered as a late applicant and as a result is not guaranteed a seat.

“Additionally the entitlement to a free seat in the case of no safe walking route only applies to under 16-year-old students.

“We do try and respond to queries from parents in a timely way and are investigating why there has been a delay in responding.”

Mark said he could not apply for the bus pass in May as he did not know where his son would be attending school.

He said he believes government guidance, even taking into his his son's age, means the unsafe route makes him eligible.

County councillor Jim Hakewill said the situation was "pretty unforgivable".

He said: "This is all about the council organising itself but not having any sense of customer service for the people they are supposed to be looking after.

"Quite a lot of rural villagers are paying more into our council tax system but not getting the same level of service."

Cllr Hakewill said he had heard of similar problems in other rural areas.

Recently one bus was an hour late meaning school pupils were marked as late on the school register.

Mark, himself a governor at Pytchley Primary School, added: "Rural communities are being discriminated against in a way."