Opponents of the return of transport charges for students in post-16 education in Northumberland turned out in force to protest.
Dozens of parents, children and politicians gathered at the Duchess’s Community High School in Alnwick in a show of opposition to Northumberland County Council’s recent decision to reinstate charges for students up to the age of 18 travelling to colleges or schools with sixth forms.
Transport charges for students aged 16 to 18 were scrapped by the Liberal Democrats when they ran the council in 2008.
But Labour bosses recently approved plans for a £600 travel charge for students attending their nearest educational establishments, where public transport is not available. Students who can travel on public transport would have to pay the full cost of their journeys to the transport provider.
Exemptions would apply to young people already in post-16 education who will continue their studies next year, those with special educational needs and those from low-income backgrounds who attend their nearest school or college.
Yet opponents from outlying areas in the North of the county believe the council is discriminating against families in rural areas, who face having to pay to send their children to sixth forms at Alnwick and Berwick.
Parents and children from Seahouses, Belford, Wooler, Shilbottle and elsewhere attended the protest as did politicians including Anne-Marie Trevelyan – Conservative parliamentary candidate for Berwick, who has set up a petition entitled Stop the Teenage Tax which 530 people have signed.
Julie Dawson, from Seahouses, was among the protestors. She said: “There was about 70 people there and they are all wanting to do more.
“We all want to get this decision overturned and there is talk of a demonstration at County Hall.”
Council bosses say the return of charges comes as they had to remove £32m from the authority’s budget in 2014/15 and a further £100m over the next three years.
A Labour spokesman said: “We’re sorry we’ve had to take this tough decision to remove free post-16 transport from the county budget.
“Our budget has been cut by a third by a coalition government that has already tripled tuition fees and scrapped the Educational Maintenance Allowance.
“We’ve taken the decision to include £900,000 as a ‘parachute payment’ which will mean that we’ll continue to protect the most vulnerable and least well-off students.
“We’ll also continue to work with local colleges and schools to assist them to look at ways to get students to their establishments in the county.”