At Wednesday evening’s Isle of Wight full council meeting, leader of the Island Independent Councillors, Cllr Julia Baker-Smith, presented her motion on the impact of charging parents of children who use the Cowes floating bridge.
She explained that so big was the impact of charges to those on low incomes, that one mother had to choose whether to feed her child or take him to school (see the detail).
Barrier to education
Cllr Baker Smith said parents on low incomes being charged £10 per week to escort their children to school via the floating bridge presented an unnecessary barrier to maintaining school attendance.
This was, she said, despite the council pushing for increased school attendance and for parents to find healthy and sustainable ways to travel to school.
Catchment faith school
The councillor for Whippingham and Osborne went on to remind members that Holy Cross in East Cowes is the catchment faith school for Cowes – meaning that if you lived west of the River Medina and wished for your child to attend a faith school, you’d be penalised by £10 per week or have to drive via Newport. The extra traffic via Newport was cited earlier in the meeting as causing increased congestion.
Cllr Baker Smith said this move by the IWC was specifically discriminating against those who wish to attend a faith school.
Although it was the Island Independents who introduced the foot passenger charges during their term of leadership, it’s worth noting that Cllr Baker Smith voted against the motion.
Lack of costings
The councillor went on to suggest she believed the Cabinet had not considered any costings when they debated her motion last week.
She said the river was a very unique circumstance and not the same as other parents who are able to walk their children to school without crossing one. Cllr Baker Smith urged the Cabinet to think again.
Support from other councillors
Cllrs Lilley, Howe and Fuller supported the motion.
Cllr Garratt joined them, stating he felt the Isle of Wight council had not considered the social cost to the community and also asked the Cabinet to reconsider – once in receipt of more data – their decision. He said councils can often find extra cash when they need to and this would show the IWC cares about its reputation and the community.
Leader of the council, Cllr Dave Stewart, said the Cabinet have to be pragmatic about the situation.
Katie’s story: Do I feed my child or take them to school?
In a style reminiscent of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Cllr Baker Smith shared Katie’s story.
“Katie’s got a son called James. Katie owns her own home and has to pay the mortgage. That means she doesn’t get any help from any hardship funds in relation to housing benefit or council tax benefit. She’s exempt from that because she owns her own home.
“Her husband left her when James was very small and as a result her situation changed.
“She lives on about £70 per week and out of that £70 she now has to use £10 to travel across the river with James.
“The reason James goes to school across the river is because he was originally at a school on one side (in East Cowes), but unfortunately he has severe ADHD and Autism and has ended up going to a school that is more appropriate for his needs on the other side of the river.
“That’s through no fault of Katie’s, but a very large proportion of her income – £10 out of her £70 per week income – goes on crossing the River Medina to take her child to school.
“There are days when Katie can’t take her child to school because she needs to choose as to whether or not she feeds James or whether or not she takes James to school.”
Cllr Baker smith went on to say
“This is what we’re talking about when we’re talking about scrimping pennies, when the Cabinet haven’t fully looked and costed how many children are crossing the river and what the real world impact is.
“This is absolutely unacceptable.”
She explained the motion is in no way related to the current issues with the floating bridge and is a long term issue that needs to be considered for children to be able to attend school.
The vote in the chamber followed this heartfelt speech. The results were 13 in favour, 19 against (all Conservative councillors) and three abstained.
The motion fell.