Fears have been raised that young people and their families could be hit hard in the pocket under new transport proposals being considered.
Consultation has been started by Northumberland County Council on the budget plans for the new financial year, which includes plans to restrict transport provision for post-16 education, as well as charge £450 per student per year. The transport provision is currently free, but council leaders have considered introducing charges in the past to help cover costs.
However, Conservative members on the council feel the new potential charges amount to a ‘teenage tax’ and will mean some families will be unable to send their children to school for A-Levels and other post-16 education.
Conservative Group Leader Peter Jackson said: “We just can’t believe the county council is planning to pull the rug from the young people who are the county’s future.
“The total saving proposed for the post-16 school transport amounts to £1.8million per year. Yet, the Labour/Independent coalition running the county council has done little to find the real waste in the system, recently paying staff an increase of £400,000 on their car allowances and presiding over hundreds of empty and redundant properties in all parts of the county.
“The bill to the taxpayer for property maintenance alone adds up to £3.5million.”
He added: “This new charge for post-16 transport is going to be a heavy burden for families across Northumberland, particularly those who live in remote, rural areas.
“Instead of imposing this transport tax on our students, who are looking to further their skills and education, we are calling on councillors to review their budget plans and to think again about the effect of these changes on the lives of our young people.”
North Northumberland Conservative Parliamentary Candidate Anne-Marie Trevelyan also criticised the plan.
She said: “Our young people deserve a better deal from this administration and I hope the Independent councillors who work with Labour will stand up and fight to protect this vital investment for the future of our county’s economic development.”
But, Labour leaders said they had no alternative but to consider the option as more youngsters were now eligible for the free transport, while funding from the Government has been cut.
Council leader Grant Davey said: “We’ve set out the position in the consultation. When the scheme was introduced, 860 young people were eligible, now it’s 3,600.
“The cost of the scheme has increased by 323 per cent, yet the council has had its budget cut by over 30 per cent as a result of the cuts forced on Northumberland by Coun Jackson’s Government.
“As a council, we want to encourage young people to study, but we want to make this decision on the facts, not a warped version of party politics.”