Fears have been raised that young people and their families could be hit hard in the pocket under new transport proposals being considered.
Consultation has been started by Northumberland County Council on next year’s budget, which includes a proposal to restrict transport provision for post-16 education, as well as introduce a charge of £450 per student per year.
The transport provision is currently free, and council leaders have considered introducing charges in the past to help cover costs.
However, Conservative members on the local authority feel the new potential charges amount to a ‘teenage tax’ and will mean some families will be unable to send their children to school for their A-levels and other post-16 education.
Conservative group leader Peter Jackson said: “We just cannot believe that the county council is planning to pull the rug from the young people who are to be the future of our county.
“This charge for post-16 transport is going to be a heavy burden for families across Northumberland, particularly those who live in remote, rural areas. We are calling on councillors to think again about the effect of these changes on the lives of our young people.”
Coun Wayne Daley, for Cramlington North, said: “I am appalled that these councillors are willing to compromise the future of our young people by forcing them to pay a ‘teenage tax’ for transport costs which were previously free.
“We fought against this very issue back in 2008 to try to stop them cutting off students from educational options at 16.”
But Labour leaders said they had no alternative but to consider the option as more youngsters were now eligible for the free transport while funding from the government had been cut.
Council leader Coun Grant Davey said: “We’ve set out the position in the consultation, when the scheme was introduced only 860 young people were eligible, now that figure is 3,600.
“The cost of the scheme has increased by 323 per cent yet the council has had it’s budget cut by over 30 per cent as a result of the cuts forced on Northumberland by councillor Jackson and Daley’s government.
“As a council, we want to encourage our young people to study, but we want to make this decision on the facts not on a warped version of party politics.”