‘Kids shouldn’t suffer because it’s a rural area’

Howard Snaith school transport buses parked outside the Duchess's High School in Alnwick.

Howard Snaith school transport buses parked outside the Duchess's High School in Alnwick.

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Funding transport for post-16 students is an investment for the future, not an expense, according to Belford parish councillors.

At the May meeting, members agreed to send a response to the county council’s consultation, which has now ended.

Northumberland County Council currently spends £3.3million a year transporting 16 to 19-year-old students to school and college and is proposing either abolishing subsidies altogether, introducing a charge or putting a limit on what it will pay for.

However, parish councillors in Belford feel that any change to the current system would be unfair, particularly as youngsters will soon be obliged to stay in some form of full-time education until the age of 18.

Coun Geoff O’Connell, who was re-elected as vice-chairman at the meeting, said: “I think it is unfair. We are in an area where average incomes are tied to agricultural levels, which means not a lot. Suggesting possible costs of £400 is outrageous and it’s grossly unfair because of where we are (halfway between Alnwick and Berwick).

“I think it’s a step too far, I don’t think it’s fair and I think it’s punitive for a rural area like this.”

Coun Tracy Bell agreed, adding: “Kids shouldn’t suffer because we live in a rural area.”

The county council is also proposing changes to school transport for children in Years 5 and 6 to eliminate a discrepancy between those at primary schools in a two-tier system and those at a middle school in the three-tier system.

It would mean that children in those years at primary schools would only get free transport if they live three miles or more away from school, just as applies for middle-school pupils.

For children under eight in either a primary or a first school, the threshold for free transport will remain as two miles, as required by the Government.

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