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Friday, 24 October 2014

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‘Teenage tax’ will leave parents £600 worse off

YOUNGSTERS from Tynedale wishing to stay on at school, or go to college, will have to pay £600 per year just to get there from September.

As expected, Northumberland County Council is scrapping free transport for sixth formers and college students, in order to save £2.4m per year.

That means youngsters starting in sixth form will have to pay £600 to travel on the same school bus they have used for free since the age of 9.

But the move has evoked Tory fury, as the opposition at County Hall has accused the ruling Labour group of imposing a tax on teenagers, which could put them off gaining qualifications.

“I cannot believe that Labour are so willing to threaten the life chances of our young people with this teenage tax of theirs,” said Coun. Peter Jackson, leader of Northumberland Conservatives.

“This excessive tax on our students and their families will put many off furthering their education at all.”

Coun. Jackson said the intention appeared to be that the only college courses available to Northumberland students were those offered by Northumberland College at Ashington.

Coun. Jackson said: “This is an insult to the young people of this county.

“As we all know, Ashington is a most difficult place to access by public transport, if not impossible from some parts of Northumberland.

“The future prosperity of our county lies in the successful careers of our young people. Yet here we have a Labour-led council making the wrong choice.

“They are happy to protect the interests of a few at the top at the expense of those who live elsewhere.

“They plan to spend millions on a new county hall and a new leisure centre in Ashington, yet are not prepared to give all our young people an equal chance.”

Hexham’s Coun. Cath Homer said the “teenage tax” was a direct attack on local people and their children who are working hard to make ends meet.

She said: “We need to have young people able to access the best course in the best college to help them get the best chance in life.

“The Labour council has now imposed a take it or leave it plan which means only the richest will be able to have choice.

“This sends the wrong message to young people and could put the long term economic prosperity of the county at risk.

“I am very concerned that in years to come our young people will decide if Northumberland doesn’t value them, they will leave.”

The Tories were critical of the fact that the two Independent members of the council from Tynedale – Ovington’s Coun. Paul Kelly and Stocksfield’s Coun. Mrs Anne Dale – failed to back the Tory opposition to the proposal.

They pointed out that the £600 charge for school transport was the highest in the North-East.

County council leader Coun. Grant Davey 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.”

The new scheme will come into effect from September 1, but sixth formers already in the scheme will not be affected.

Special provision will be made to exempt the most vulnerable groups, such as students with special educational needs, or those from low income backgrounds, who attend their nearest appropriate school or college.

The average annual cost to the council of transport per student is currently in the region of £936 a year.

Northumberland is unusual among local authorities in that it still provides free transport for 16-19 year old students.

Durham County Council has already withdrawn its post-16 travel scheme and Cumbria County Council is also withdrawing the subsidy.

The number of Northumberland students claiming free transport has increased from 800 to 3,500 over the past five years, and 40 per cent of students travel to educational establishments outside the county.

Whilst the numbers of students claiming free travel has increased dramatically, the numbers of students from Northumberland attending post-16 education have remained static at around 7,000.

The council is now hoping that the withdrawal of free transport could lead to school sixth forms and colleges in Northumberland extending the range of courses they can offer.

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