A FIFTEEN-year-old schoolgirl from Northumberland last night hit out at council bosses after they rubber-stamped the return of transport charges for students in post-16 education.
Rhiann Charters, from Wooler, voiced anger at Northumberland County Council’s move to reinstate charges of in some cases £600 a year for young people travelling to colleges or schools with sixth forms.
Rhiann, who travels to Duchess Community High School in Alnwick, told how she is contemplating an apprenticeship in her home village to save on transport costs and said the decision to bring back charges was an unwanted distraction while she is midway through her GCSE exams.
She also criticised the council for not making the decision sooner, saying it came months after pupils had to decide where they would be studying next year.
Transport charges for students aged 16 to 18 were scrapped by the Liberal Democrats when they ran the council in 2008.
But Labour rulers recently announced they were considering reinstating them as part of their proposed budget for 2014/15, as they sought to remove £32m from the council’s budget in 2014/15 and a further £100m over the next three years.
The council’s Labour-controlled policy board has now approved plans for a £600 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.
Last night, Rhiann said: “I think it is disgraceful because it is discriminating against people in rural areas that do not have other transport links and that is their local school.”
Rhiann, who has enrolled to stay on at the school to do A-levels, believes she would have to pay £42 a week to get the bus to Alnwick. “It is going to be really expensive,” she said.
The teenager revealed she is considering an apprenticeship in her home village, simply to avoid the cost of travelling to Alnwick.
She is currently in the middle of her GCSEs, having taken 11 and with 14 still to sit, and said the decision on the return of charges was badly timed.
“They have done it at a time when people have got exams and they are worried about that.”
Rhiann added the decision had been made months after pupils had been required to say where they were studying next year.
“It is late in the year because your applications had to be in by February for colleges and schools.”
The return of charges has been slammed by both Conservative and Lib Dem opponents on the county council, and by Lib Dem MP for Berwick Sir Alan Beith and his would-be successor Julie Pörksen - the latter having mounted a petition which 931 people signed.
Yet it has been defended by council leader Grant Davey, who said: “We do not make any cuts with relish. It is regrettable that we have to make any cuts but we must balance our budget.
“Where we make cuts we will protect those in greatest need and continue to focus our resources on helping our county to grow. We will always do right by our communities.”