Many people in Cleator Moor are wondering what has hit them as they contemplate the effect of three major blows to the town.
Councillor Hugh Branney is angry that the police station is to closed depriving vulnerable people of the opportunity of meeting police officers face to face when they need to. Of course he understands that the police need to save money on buildings in order to retain as many officers as possible, but he asks why it has not been possible to make use of other public buildings as possible bases for officers, as in Egremont, where they are moving their offices to the Fire Station. The Library and the Council Offices would be very suitable alternatives to the present police station, allowing economies on buildings to go ahead.
Yes, police officers have cars and computers and can respond quickly to an emergency, Councillor Joan Hully concedes, but she is conscious of the needs of elderly people who often feel excluded by modern technology and need the reassurance of personal contact.
The threat to Remploy
Councillor Branney is also very disturbed by reports that Remploy Ltd is threatened with closure. The company was established soon after the war to provide employment for disabled servicemen and women, giving them a sense of dignity as well as purposeful employment, and it still delivers these priceless opportunities to disabled people in the town in producing high quality protective clothing on its premises on the Leconfield Industrial Estate. “Once again the Government are cutting easy to hit areas, affecting people who are the most vulnerable,” comments Dave Riley, but he believes that threat can be averted, if the people of Cleator Moor show how important this centre is.
Loss of Subsidy for transport to St Benedict’s
Perhaps the threat that is causing greatest public concern is the decision taken by Cumbria County Council to remove subsidies for the transport of children to Se Benedict’s for all children living outside a 3 mile perimeter from the school. The new cost amounts to £350 a year, and the burden to be borne by families with several children of secondary school age may prove crippling.
Copeland Council Council has sharply criticised this decision and Council Leader, Elaine Woodburn, argues that by removing subsidies the County Council will be making it difficult for parents to send their children to the school of their choice. She attended the school and speaks warmly of the excellence of the education it offices and of the moral values it instils, based on Christian principle. In July last year we reported on how it welcomed visitors from Tanzania to its delightful Fair Trade evening .
Many parents find it very difficult to avoid the conclusion that the council is discriminating unfairly against Catholic families, especially as it will be possible to get free transport to either West Lakes Academy (WLA) or Whitehaven School, virtually on the same campus as St Benedict’s. Martin Elder was told that free transport to St Benedict’s would be allowed if no more places were available at Whitehaven or WLA.
The vigilance of Councillor Frank Morgan spotted a loophole that will prove a great benefit to many Cleator Moor families. Children living within 3 miles of St Benedict’s are now entitled to free transport on the grounds that their walking route to school is unsafe, but Dave Riley believes this in itself has “opened a hornets’ nest for the whole of Copeland. Pupils can now apply for free travel if they live less than 3 miles away and think their route to school unsafe ,” he comments scornfully. It certainly has led to some strange anomalies. About half the families in Robert Owen Avenue are entitled to free transport, while the other half are not, merely because they live a few yards further away from the school. Martin Elder suspects a policy of “divide and rule.”
Statutory or Discretionary?
Like all other councils, Cumbria County Council has been forced to distinguish between requirements that are statutory (required by law) and those that are discretionary, and offered by choice. Government support for councils is now based on the assumption that they should be meeting no more duties than are legally necessary. Councils are obliged to provide free transport to the nearest school. The point at issue is whether for Roman Catholic families that should be the nearest faith school.
Two questions need to be considered:
1) Should all families be entitled to free transport to the school of their choice? For instance, should Whitehaven families expect free transport if they choose to send their children to West Lakes Academy?
2) How important is it that children should attend schools of the faith that their families follow?
We shall be interested in your answers.