Watered-down post-16 pledge does not cut it for councillor

Coun Anthony Murray
Coun Anthony Murray

Wooler’s Conservative county councillor is set to go against his party after he revealed that a pledge to abolish post-16 transport charges is likely to be watered down.

Coun Anthony Murray made the announcement during his monthly update to Wooler Parish Council at its meeting on Monday night.

He explained that the abolition of charges for post-16 transport was one of the key issues he campaigned on before his re-election in May.

It was not possible to make changes to the current scheme for this academic year due to the statutory timetables, but it now looks like the outcome for next year may not be what Coun Murray, or others, hoped.

“I will probably end up voting against my group,” he said.

“They are talking about not getting rid of the full charge, which is £600, but halving it. £300 is still a lot of money for families to find.

“There are two or three of us who are very much against it. I think it’s a great pity because a number of the (Conservative) group represent rural areas like mine.”

The parish council agreed to send a letter supporting Coun Murray’s stance and the need for transport to school or college to be free for students up to the age of 18.

The abolition of the post-16 transport charge, which was the subject of protests when it was introduced by Labour in 2014, was one of the seven key pledges in the Tory manifesto, launched in March, ahead of their forming the new administration at County Hall after May’s elections.

While it was not possible for the new leadership to bring in any changes to the policy ahead of the statutory deadline for the 2017/18 school year, in June, a new payments option, to spread them over the year, was introduced.

At that time, Coun Wayne Daley, the county’s cabinet member for children’s services, said: “As a council, we believe the current post-16 travel charges are unfair and we are committed to overhauling this policy.”

In July, it was confirmed that a ‘comprehensive review’ of the policy was under way.

OTHER TRANSPORT ISSUES

○ The Dial and Ride service will not run as it did before, but funding has been found for a new six-month trial run by North East Equality and Diversity (Need).

Starting last week, the service will run each Thursday from Wooler to Alnwick via Powburn. In Alnwick, it will stop at Morrisons, near the Playhouse, at the hospital and Sainsbury’s.

Pick-up is between 10.30am and 11am, with the return pick-up at 1.30pm.

Become a member for £4.50. Return fare £6 – free to bus pass holders. Contact the Dial and Ride Hotline on 01665 605780, between 10am and 2pm, Monday to Thursday.

○ The parish council has changed one of its three priorities to go into the hat for funding from the county council’s Local Transport Plan 2018/19.

The county council has said a pedestrian crossing outside the Co-op is ‘not feasible’ so members replaced it with an attempt to tackle complaints about parking on Brewery Road near the school through the introduction of parking controls, such as double yellow lines.