With pressure mounting to reverse a decision to axe free transport for students, Northumberland County Council has agreed to hold an extraordinary meeting in Morpeth next week.
Angry parents and opponents of the Labour administration at county hall have been urging the county council to reverse its decision to reintroduce transport charges for students over the age of 16.
They say it discriminates against parents in the north and rural parts of the county and that the consultation was inadequate.
They have also been highly critical of county council leader Grant Davey for avoiding a meeting to raise the concerns.
But an emergency meeting has now been called. It will take place at County Hall in Morpeth on Friday at 9.30am.
The motion to be debated has been put forward by Conservative group leader Peter Jackson.
He is requesting the suspension of the decision and the introduction of a new consultation process.
Mr Jackson said: “The leader of the council Grant Davey can run but cannot hide from the electorate.
“He has been doing everything in his power to avoid public accountability. Labour have made a huge mistake with this teenage tax and we are asking them to revisit this decision which will be discussed at an extraordinary meeting of the council.”
But Mr Davey, leader of the council and the Labour group, accused the Tories of playing politics:
“The extraordinary council meeting could end up costing the council tax payers over £40,000, which is a very expensive way to play gesture politics after their own government has raided Northumberland’s budget to the tune of £130m.
“It’s cynical, hypocritical and it goes to show that local Tories would rather spend than save money.”
Protestors met senior county council officers on Wednesday to express concern about the lack of engagement with the public.
Leading protestor Allison Joynson said: “Whilst I appreciate the officers taking the time to meet with us, and the fact that finally a dialogue has begun, it became quickly apparent that the Labour administration is not prepared to seriously consider revisiting this discriminatory policy.
“It was evident from the discussions that the council had no real appreciation of the huge impact on the people of Northumberland especially those from rural areas.”
The county council voted to scrap its free transport scheme for pupils over the age of 16 last month in a move which will save £2.4 million.
From September 1 students will pay the full cost where public transport is available, or £600 a year to travel on council contracted school transport.
Council bosses say they were forced to bring back charges as they have to remove £32m from the authority’s budget in 2014/15 and a further £100m over the next three years.
But furious parents in the rural north of the county say their children are being penalised for staying in education, and are calling on the administration to change its mind.
The pressure group opposing the plans has already staged a demonstration outside the Duchess Community High School in Alnwick and has circulated a petition demanding a rethink.
Source – Berwick Advertiser, 05 July 2014
Students from north Northumberland who travel by train and bus to access higher education courses are facing a devastating financial blow.
A proposal going before Northumberland County Council next week recommends ending free transport for post-16 students, saving £2.4m a year.
It means students would have to pay the full cost where public transport is available or a standard charge of £600 per year for council contracted school transport.
“That would be a disaster for students in the Berwick area who travel by train to Newcastle or bus to Ashington,” said Julie Porksen, the Lib Dem who has campaigned to retain free post-16 transport.
She is equally appalled that pupils from outlying areas about to enter the sixth form will have to pay £600 to use the same school bus they have previously boarded for free.
“Labour’s charges will cause real hardship for many families, especially those in remote and rural areas, raising the cost of living for families with teenagers,” she said.
Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith added: “This is outrageous discrimination against students in the Berwick area and the more remote parts of Northumberland, and if the Labour council goes ahead with the plan they will be demonstrating a callous indifference to education in rural communities.”
The council is considering the proposal against a backdrop of having to make £65m savings over the next two years.
A report to next Thursday’s policy board states that the current approach to school transport is no longer sustainable and alternative options to reduce costs need to be considered.
It reveals the number of students claiming free transport has increased from 800 to 3500 over the past five years. Costs to the council have increased to £3,3m per year.
It also notes that 40% of students eligible for free transport travel outside of the county with a loss of potential income of around £28m. The report also suggests there could be potential for school sixth forms and colleges extending the range of courses they can offer.
Source – Berwick Advertiser, 23 May 2014