Transport plan for over-16s in Northumberland facing criticism

A war of words over post 16 transport charges in Northumberland has reignited with council bosses accused of having no respect for young people

A school bus service
A school bus service

A lack of respect for young people was last night levelled at council bosses in a bitter row over transport charges for over-16s still in education.

Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate Julie Pörksen hit out at Labour bosses on Northumberland County Council over a possible return of charges for post 16 educational transport – which had been previously scrapped by her party.

However, authority leaders responded by accusing her party of “propping up” a national coalition which has seen £359 per family cut from council services.

Transport charges for students aged 16 to 18 were scrapped by the Lib Dems when they ran the council in 2008.

But Labour bosses announced they were considering a number of options as part of their proposed budget for 2014/15, including the introduction of a charge of possibly £450.

Labour bosses revealed their favoured option would be for students travelling to sites within Northumberland to continue to receive free transport, but for charges to apply to those travelling outside the county. The proposals sparked Mrs Pörksen, who is her party’s candidate for Berwick, to set up a petition, calling for the retention of free transport. A total of 931 signatures were collected with the petition discussed at a county council meeting last week.

And Mrs Pörksen hit out at Labour, saying: “The timing of this is particularly disgraceful, students have enough to worry about at exam time without having to worry if they will have to find money to pay for transport.

“These proposals to change the system show how disconnected the Labour council are from rural life and the cost of living faced by families and their lack of respect for young people.”

A Labour spokesman, though, said the move would encourage students to study in Northumberland rather than go elsewhere for free, helping the county’s coffers.

The spokesman said: “Liberal Democrats have propped up a national coalition which has seen £359 per family cut from council services over the period since Labour came to office. Post-16 transport costs have soared with a 323% increase since the introduction of free post-16 travel but roughly 50% of students travelling choose to study outside Northumberland.

“That’s £28m lost to Northumberland’s educational establishments.”

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