SNP playing politics over school transport


Responding to accusations from Gil Paterson MSP, Jo has criticised the “political opportunism” of the SNP.

Liberal Democrat councillors put forward a sustainable plan for maintaining free school transport in their February 2010 budget, but it was not supported by SNP, Labour and Tory Councillors, and cuts were made by the Labour-Tory Council administration.

In a recent special Council meeting, Lib Dem councillors secured the reinstatement of free buses for primary school pupils and a reduction in charges for secondary school pupils in East Dunbartonshire.

In the meeting, SNP councillors proposed to reinstate free school transport for primary and secondary school pupils. The reversal was to be funded with a one-off windfall of cash, meaning it could not be sustained into the next financial year.

Gil Paterson this week wrote a letter to Jo asking why Lib Dem Councillors did not support the SNP’s plan. This is despite the SNP’s February budget calling for free buses for secondary pupils to be cut.

Commenting, Jo said:

“This is pure political opportunism from the SNP, who have given a very blinkered version of events on the school transport issue.

“I am very much in favour of fully reversing the Labour-Tory administration’s cuts to free school bus services, but the SNP’s plan for funding this was totally unsustainable. Liberal Democrat councillors could not join the SNP in supporting a proposal to reinstate services which would only have to be withdrawn again in a few months time when the funding ran out.”

“Instead, the Lib Dems won backing for a sustainable plan which successfully reinstated free transport for 1150 primary school pupils and reduced the fees for 550 secondary school pupils.

“Gil Paterson’s outrage is particularly baffling given that the SNP group’s budget in February proposed to cut free transport for secondary school pupils, just like Labour and the Tories did. If his group had supported the Lib Dem budget back in February then the whole school bus charging debacle could have been avoided.”

The text of Jo’s letter to Gil Paterson MSP appears below.

Gil Paterson MSP

Room m5.10

Scottish Parliament

Edinburgh

EH99 1SP

13th September 2010

Dear Gil,

Thank you for your recent letter regarding the Liberal Democrat group on East Dunbartonshire Council.

As I’m sure the SNP group on East Dunbartonshire Council will have told you, their motion to reverse cuts to free school transport services proposed to fund the service with a one-off cash windfall from a VAT rebate. This would only have been enough to finance free school transport until the end of this financial year. While it may have provided short term political gain for your party, it is highly likely that the charges would have had to have been re-introduced in April, causing yet more chaos and confusion for pupils and parents.

I should point out that the Liberal Democrats did not “back the administration” as you say – rather, Labour and Tory Councillors backed a Liberal Democrat motion, which was successful in reinstating free transport for 1150 primary school pupils, and reducing the charges for 550 secondary school pupils.

The Liberal Democrat group’s February 2010 budget offered a sustainable funding plan for maintaining free travel for both primary and secondary school pupils, which unfortunately the other parties did not support. This whole debacle could have been avoided had the SNP group backed the Lib Dem budget, rather than abstaining from the vote. I note that the SNP budget proposed to axe free school transport for secondary school pupils, and their position only changed when it became clear that this would score them political points. I will be interested to see whether this new stance is maintained in their February 2011 budget.

Regarding the Kilmardinny development, I am glad that you recognise that the approval of the application is very bad news for the people of Milngavie and Bearsden. Perhaps you can explain to me why despite repeated calls by myself and others, the SNP Government refused to call in the application, and allowed an unelected official to override the wishes of local people?

While the Liberal Democrat group leader has already explained why he had to leave the 4th February meeting before votes took place, the two SNP Councillors who were absent from the meeting altogether have offered no explanation for their absence, which could have swung the vote.

While I understand that you are keen to wade into important political debates in East Dunbartonshire now that Scottish Parliament elections are around the corner, perhaps you ought to check first that your SNP colleagues on the Council are giving you the full story.

Yours sincerely,

Jo Swinson


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