Post-16 students in Northumberland will not have to pay the controversial £600 transport charge from September after councillors axed the so-called ‘teenage tax’.
Members unanimously approved the Conservatives’ new policy, which will provide free transport for Northumberland residents travelling to a full-time course at their ‘nearest appropriate provider’, at today’s (Tuesday, May 8) meeting of Northumberland County Council’s cabinet.
Students will have to pay a £50 administration fee (with some exceptions), but this will cover the two years of their course and will be paid back in the case of an application being unsuccessful.
Coun Wayne Daley, cabinet member for children’s services, said: “There was a clear manifesto promise that we made as an administration to remove what was in effect a teenage tax, the post-16 transport charge.
“Having gone through the consultation and through the scrutiny process, I’m delighted there is a clear recommendation that we remove the teenage tax from our post-16 students in Northumberland.
“We made a manifesto commitment, it’s taken us about a year to get this right. We inherited a transport policy when we came in, which we couldn’t amend initially, but it’s better to get things right than rush.”
Coun John Riddle said: “There’s been a misconception, certainly by the previous administration, that if you’re rural, you’re rich. It’s very clear that a lot of the wages and earnings in the country are very low.
“This should be equal and it is equitable across the county, it’s not anything to do with where people live, it’s based on need. I very much welcome it, £25 a year is very good value and much appreciated I’m sure.”
Council leader Peter Jackson said: “We, as an administration, have a massive ambition for young people right across our county and this is one way we are supporting them.
“We need to improve our educational outcomes, without doubt, right across our county, including in some of the rural areas, so we will do whatever we can to support young people to achieve in education.
“It’s also about equal opportunities in education. We don’t want anyone to be disadvantaged because they happen to live a long way from their local high school.”
The current policy where students have to pay £600 was introduced by the previous Labour administration for the 2014-15 academic year in the face of protests, particularly from rural areas of the county.
At last week’s full council meeting, the issue was again hotly contested, with Labour leader Grant Davey saying that the current scheme was not about affordability but to avoid abuse of the system and to help support local high schools.
By Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service