Council axes free post-16 transport

Northumberland County Council have agreed to axe free transport for Post-16 students.
Northumberland County Council have agreed to axe free transport for Post-16 students.

Free transport for post-16 students is to be axed after senior officials at Northumberland County Council gave it the green light.

Members of the council’s policy board voted seven to two in favour of the cut, which the Labour administration say will save the authority £2.4m a year.

The decision means students will have to pay full public transport costs or a standard charge of £600 although there will be protection for students from low-income families and those with special needs.

Labour members said the decision was brought about due to the ‘savage cuts’ imposed by the Coalition Government while some schools and colleges were suffering as students were travelling out of the county for their education.

Council leader, Coun Grant Davey said: “We do not make any cuts with relish.

“It is regrettable that we have to make any cuts but we must balance our budget.

“Where we make cuts we will protect those in greatest need and continue to focus our resources on helping our county to grow. We will always do right by our communities.”

The Policy Board also agreed to work actively in partnership with schools, colleges and other training providers to ensure that students’ access to post-16 educational opportunities in their own locality are continuously improved and to monitor the impact of the new post-16 policy on an on-going basis following its implementation.

But Conservative members hit out at the plans, describing them as a ‘teenage tax’.

Group leader Peter Jackson said: “You are actually going to enshrine in black and white some form of rural deprivation and discrimination. You have tried to paper over some of the problems, but I still think it’s a tax on young people.”

After the meeting, Cramlington councillor Wayne Daley said: “This Teenage Tax is a direct attack on local people and their children who are working hard to make ends meet.

“We need young people to be able to access the best course in the best college to help them get the best chance in life.

This is sends the wrong message to young people and could put the long term economic prosperity of Northumberland at risk.”

The current scheme will be retained for all post-16 students who will continue their studies in September 2014.

Special provision will be made to exempt the most vulnerable groups, such as students with special educational needs or those from low-income backgrounds who attend their nearest appropriate school or college.