MP Guy Opperman hits out over Northumberland school transport 'chaos'

Hexham MP Guy Opperman has criticised Northumberland County Council over its new school transport arrangements

Hexham MP Guy Opperman
Hexham MP Guy Opperman

School transport plans in Northumberland are “in chaos” following revelations of delays in finalising arrangements, a county MP has warned.

Hexham Conservative Guy Opperman says he is “deeply concerned” that the numbers of young people going into post 16 education will fall, and that some bus routes may become unsustainable, after it emerged that fewer teenagers have applied for transport.

But council leaders have insisted new arrangements take time to bed in and have accused the MP of “creating more heat than light.”

Mr Opperman was speaking after The Journal revealed yesterday how the Labour run Northumberland County Council had written to parents who have applied for concessionary travel places for their children telling them that arrangements can not be finalised until the end of September.

The authority’s letter explained that this is because officers must first sort out transport for those to whom they have a statutory responsibility.

The council say they have received fewer than expected applications for transport for those in post 16 education, which it admits is probably due to the recent introduction of charges of up to £600.

The letter says it expects more applications now students have received their GCSE results and that these will be given priority.

As a result, parents seeking concessionary travel have been told they will not find out whether their children can receive it until the end of September, and that they will have make their own arrangements until then when the school term begins.

Northumberland County Council, County Hall, Morpeth
Northumberland County Council, County Hall, Morpeth

Mr Opperman said: “This is a truly shocking letter.

“We warned the County Council that parents in rural areas could not afford the new £600 ‘tax’ and already we have the evidence.

“The council received hundreds of letters from families in rural Northumberland warning them that they simply did not have the money for this new ‘tax’ on school transport.

“It is very sad to see that already there are less applications.

“I am deeply concerned we may also see this reflected in the number of students going on to college and sixth form.”

The MP added: “In the council’s rush to impose charges on rural families they have created chaos in their own system.

“We now have the ridiculous state of affairs were some parents do no even know if there child will be able to get the school bus.

“That situation is not acceptable.

“I am very concerned that with the number of pupils using the service reduced, some routes may become unsustainable in the longer term.”

Yet Council and Labour group leader Grant Davey said: “Mr Opperman is creating more heat than light every time he utters a word about this issue.

Grant Davey, leader of Northumberland County Council
Grant Davey, leader of Northumberland County Council

“The fact is that when you introduce a new policy it will take time to bed in.

“We have written to parents many times, we have posted information online, and we have involved schools.

“That is what you do when you introduce a new policy.

“This constant harping on is not helpful. It does nothing to reassure parents who are working with their children to plan for the future.

“If the MP cannot say something helpful, then he should resist saying anything at all.

A council spokeswoman added: “Every year we sell off spare seats on the buses which are provided for students who are entitled to free transport to school.

“Those not entitled to free transport can apply for a concessionary place on the bus that is running anyway. This is mostly for pre-16 students.

“The guidance on the application form states that students who qualify for free transport take priority on school buses, and that we are not able to confirm a place on a bus until late September.

“We always advise that parents should make contingency plans in case their child is not allocated one of the spare seats.”


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