AN action group has been set up by concerned parents to oppose a 25 per cent school transport cost hike imposed by Lancashire County Council.

More than 40 parents of children who attend the Ribble Valley’s only Roman Catholic high school attended a public meeting on Wednesday night to discuss their response to the cost increase, which will take effect in September.

The parents of St Augustine’s RC High School pupils voted to set up a group to lobby LCC to change its policy and to create an online petition.

The meeting came after LCC announced that parents would have to pay £475 a year for transportation costs, up from £380, because the students pass a non-faith school on the route to Billington.

Michael Wright, headteacher at St Augustine’s, said: “While those on the lowest incomes will continue to receive free transport, the increased charges will undoubtedly cause financial difficulty for many families, particularly those with more than one child.

“It is a shame that LCC has chosen to address their funding difficulties by applying charges to families who have chosen a faith based education.

“I am sure that many of these families will be disappointed by the dismissive attitude of the council towards the consultation and wonder where the council’s priorities lie when a particular group of families face this excessive increase.”

Nigel Evans, MP for the Ribble Valley, who attended the meeting, said: “I think that it is wholly wrong for parents to have to pay because they choose to send their children to a faith school. I regard it as a form of discrimination and it’s clear that parents are very angry about it.

“I will be calling for a debate on the issue when the House of Commons returns next month.”

County Councillor Matthew Tomlinson, cabinet member for children, young people and schools, refuted the discrimination claims.

He said: “As things stand, the county council continues to bear more than half the cost of transporting pupils to faith schools, so we can hardly be accused of religious discrimination, especially as some local authorities have removed the subsidy altogether.

“The county council spends about £1,000 per pupil, per year on denominational transport, so parents pay considerably less than the true cost.

“And those on low income who are entitled to free transport will continue to receive that support.”