Local learning incentive

STUDENTS in Northumberland could hold onto free transport, but those travelling further afield may have to pay.

Earlier this year Northumberland County Council’s Labour Administration outlined proposals to scrap free post-16 student transport, which could see teenagers forking out up to £450 a year on travel costs.

Following public outcry, the Party agreed to defer the matter for consultation.

And now the group is proposing a scheme to retain free post-16 travel for students who stay in the county, but not for those studying elsewhere.

Council Business Chairman Scott Dickinson said: “We want to make sure that education in Northumberland becomes the first choice for its children and young people and we don’t think it’s fair on schools and colleges in the county to subsidise the likes of Newcastle College.

“Under our proposals, travel to schools and colleges will continue to be free as part of our Support Our Schools and Colleges’ campaign.

“The county’s education system has lost an estimated £28million since the introduction of subsidised travel to out-of-county educational establishments and we don’t think that’s either fair or sustainable.”

The group says that the scheme to provide free transport to all eligible youngsters has grown by 323 per cent since its introduction in 2008/09, with the number of students using it up from around 850 to 3,600.

And it warns that if the current arrangements continue, the annual cost to the schools budget will be about £6.5million.

The Administration says the council is also faced with making £3.25million of savings this year due to cuts in budgets by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition Government.

The Liberal Democrats have been campaigning against student transport changes, with Baroness Diana Maddock raising concerns in the House of Lords and Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith discussing the issue with Schools Minister David Laws.

Julie Porksen, the Party’s candidate for Berwick at the next election, has set up a petition against the introduction of charges and is also calling for a change in the law.

“It is just not acceptable that councils are not obliged to provide free transport for students after their GCSE year. With the leaving age rising to 18, most young people will have to go to school so it should be free,” she said.

Ms Porksen is developing a motion for the Party’s conference.

About 500 residents have signed the petition, which can be found at www.berwicklibdems.org.uk