Parents in Northumberland who face having to pay to send their children to schools and colleges are pleading with councillors “not to treat the future of our kids as a political football” ahead of a meeting today.
Northumberland County Council is this morning staging an extraordinary meeting at which members will consider a motion to ask the authority’s policy board to look again at its decision to reinstate transport charges for students in post-16 education.
The decision, which would see some families having to pay £600, was made by the Labour run council on the back of multi-million pound Government cuts.
Yet it has provoked an angry response from parents, pupils and opposition councillors.
They have accused the Labour-run council of discriminating against families in rural areas, with over 1,200 joining a Facebook group and protests staged outside an Alnwick school last month and at Seahouses earlier this.
The issue has even reached the House of Commons with David Cameron and senior minister Eric Pickles joining in the criticism.
Parents are to stage a further peaceful protest outside the authority’s County Hall base at Morpeth before this morning’s meeting.
And ahead of the meeting, their Parents Against Decision to Scrap the Post-16 School Transport action group has pleaded with councillors to put their children’s future before political pointscoring.
Member Allison Joynson, a mum of two from Budle Bay, said: “We are asking the political parties not to treat the future of our kids as a political football. This is about the education of our post-16s, the issue of free fares is not a political football.
“We ask all councillors of all political colours to please come to the council meeting tomorrow with an open mind and to treat the future of our kids with respect. Please don’t play politics.”
The extraordinary meeting follows the cancellation of the council’s full gathering planned for July 2, due to what was deemed a lack of business. The cancellation provoked an angry response among parents who had planned a protest at the meeting.
The Conservative opposition group tabled a formal request for an extraordinary meeting which the authority was bound to agree to under its constitution, due to the number of councillors backing it.
Labour leaders, who had originally claimed the cancellation of the full meeting would save £18,000, claimed the extraordinary date would cost taxpayers £45,000, before revising that to £80,000.
The council has still to give a breakdown of that figure with its spokespeople saying information will be provided to today’s meeting, but that it includes the cost of the consultation process for the review of transport charges.
A Labour source claimed figures will be released after the meeting because “it’s likely the cost will rise.”
The Tories will table the motion today at the meeting asking the policy board to review its decision to bring back the charges which were scrapped by the Liberal Democrats when they ran the council in 2008.
Ahead of the meeting, council leader Grant Davey has defended the decision to save costs on post 16 transport, claiming millions of pounds were being spent on “luxury travel.”
He cited a group of young people taking daily trips to college in a taxi with an annual bill of £37,000, as well as more than one hundred young people being given unlimited rail passes at a cost of more than £4,500 a year, as examples.
The leader said the number of students needing support had grown from around 800 when free travel was launched to nearly 4,000.
Northumberland College meanwhile yesterday announced it has has launched a travel scheme that means all 16-18 year olds who study at the college, living in Northumberland or Tyne and Wear and living more than three miles from their chosen place of study, will be entitled to free travel by public transport.