MPs condemn Northumberland councillors in row over student transport

Labour MPs have slammed Conservative councillors who demanded a meeting to discuss charges for student transport

Exterior of County Hall in Morpeth Northumberland
Exterior of County Hall in Morpeth Northumberland

MPs have condemned Conservative councillors in Northumberland for forcing the authority to hold an extraordinary meeting to discuss student transport fees.

The meeting will cost taxpayers £45,000 but has no chance of overturning the decision to charge fees to post-16 students, according to Labour MPs.

The meeting is being held on Friday after nine councillors in the authority’s Conservative group demanded it.

Under the council’s constitution, an extraordinary meeting must take place if five councillors ask for one.

The councillors’ actions were criticised in the House of Commons by Labour MPs including Blyth Valley MP Ronnie Campbell and Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery, who sponsored a Commons motion.

Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery
Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery
 

The motion condemned “the decision by nine Conservative councillors in Northumberland to call an extraordinary meeting of the Council at an estimated cost to the taxpayer of £45,000 to seek to overturn a democratic decision taken by a Labour council which has to make savings of £130m over the next four years because of Government cuts”.

It added: “Cuts in Northumberland so far have meant 1,500 job losses and cuts in services to the value of £259 per family.”

Mr Campbell said the council was being forced to make savings and Conservatives who opposed the transport fees should explain what they proposed to cut instead. He said: “The meeting will not achieve anything. All it is going to be is Punch and Judy.”

He sympathised with parents who faced paying transport fees but the authority had already cut 1,500 staff posts, he said.

Mr Campbell said: “What do the Tories propose, except to sack more people?”

Councillor Peter Jackson
Councillor Peter Jackson
 

Coun Peter Jackson, leader of the Conservative group on the county council, said councillors had a right under the authority’s constitution to demand a meeting.

He said: “I and the rest of the Conservative group have been contacted by worried parents who are going to find it very hard indeed to come up with the money.”

Conservatives want the council to scrap plans to build a new county hall in Ashington, he said. The authority argues the move will save money in the long run by reducing maintenance costs.

The row has reached the House of Commons before, with Hexham Conservative MP Guy Opperman accusing the council of levying a “teenage transport tax” while Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles said: “They can run but cannot hide from the electorate.”

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