New minister urged to intervene over Northumberland transport charges

New education minister Nicky Morgan has been asked to halt Northumberland County Council's decision to introduce transport charges for students

Berwick’s Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate Julie Pörksen
Berwick’s Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate Julie Pörksen

A government minister has been asked to intervene in the continuing row over the introduction of transport charges for Northumberland students.

Berwick’s Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate Julie Pörksen has invited new education secretary Nicky Morgan to stop Northumberland County Council implementing travel fees for those in post-16 education from September.

Authority leaders, who had already criticised Conservative members of the council for playing politics with the issue, have hit back by accusing the politician of “playing increasingly desperate and cynical games.”

The Labour-run council recently agreed to bring in charges, of in some cases £600, blaming multi-million pound Government cuts.

Now Mrs Pörksen has written to Mrs Morgan asking her to direct the council to defer the implementation of charges for one academic year “as arrangements to implement the policy were not put in place.”

She said: “It’s bad enough that Labour decided to adopt their unfair policy of charging for transport, but the actual implementation of their policy is a complete and utter shambles.

“It shows a serious lack of respect or the young people and their parents, that the Labour councillors did not allow sufficient time for their policy to be put in place.

“These councillors have put schools, colleges, bus companies and council officers in a very difficult situation and everyone is trying hard to pick up the pieces, but worst of all is that school holidays have started with many 16 year olds and their parents not knowing how they will actually be able to get to or pay to get to school or college in September.

“The lack of travel arrangements is the reason why I have asked the education secretary to step in and make the council delay their plans for a year, by which time I aim to have made progress on trying to change the law to guarantee the right to free post-16 transport.”

Both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats - who are fighting an increasingly bitter battle over the Berwick seat at next year’s General Election - have sought to make political capital from the row.

Grant Davey, leader of the council and the Labour group, said: “It seems the Liberal Democrats are intent on continuing the party political games around the difficult decision to end free post 16 transport. The Lib Dem parliamentary candidate needs to explain how the council will make £32m worth of cuts this year alone without difficult decisions.

“Instead of playing increasingly desperate and cynical games she needs to explain why she thinks it’s a good deal for Northumberland’s taxpayers to shell out £3.3m every year for just 1% of the population and why she’s in favour of shelling out £480,000 for rail passes for just 90 students, for example.”

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