Post-16 transport plea to new Education Secretary

Lib Dem campaigner Julie Porksen.
Lib Dem campaigner Julie Porksen.

Lib Dem campaigner Julie Pörksen has asked the new Secretary of State Nicky Morgan to step in and stop Northumberland County Council implementing its new post-16 transport policy in September.

The Secretary of State has the right to intervene where transport arrangements have not been included in the policy. They may also take action if they are satisfied than an authority has acted unreasonably.

In her letter, Julie wrote: ‘Within your power as Secretary of State, I believe you should direct Northumberland County Council to defer the implementation of the policy announced on May 31, 2014, for one academic year, as arrangements to implement the policy were not put in place, and retain the previous post-16 transport policy for the 2014/15 academic year.”

Julie said: “It’s bad enough that Labour decided to adopt its unfair policy of charging for transport, but the actual implementation of their policy is a complete and utter shambles. It shows a serious lack of respect or the young people and their parents, that the Labour councillors did not allow sufficient time for their policy to be put in place.

“These councillors have put schools, colleges, bus companies and council officers in a very difficult situation and everyone is trying hard to pick up the pieces, but worst of all is that school holidays have started with many 16-year-olds and their parents not knowing how they will actually be able to get to or pay to get to school or college in September.

“The lack of travel arrangements is the reason why I have asked the Education Secretary to step in and make the council delay their plans for a year, by which time I aim to have made progress on trying to change the law to guarantee the right to free post-16 transport.”

It comes after a motion calling for the suspension of the decision to axe post-16 transport funding was voted down earlier this month following four hours of debate.

The extraordinary meeting of the county council had been called by the Conservatives following the cancellation of the July full-council meeting, at which campaigners against the cuts, which mean some students may have to pay £600 a year or public-transport costs, were planning to make their views known.

Council leader Grant Davey reiterated the reasons behind the policy board’s decision, which include the huge cuts the council must make, the drain of money from the county as students travel to colleges on Tyneside and the fact that funding changes and bursary-fund cash means schools and colleges can fund transport themselves.

He also pointed out that while the council charge will be £600, the actual cost is around £900 for an urban student and £1,100 in the rural areas and said the council couldn’t be seen to be favouring rural areas.

Around £1million is being left in the scheme to fund transport for young people with special educational needs or from low-income backgrounds and Coun Davey said one in five post-16 students will benefit from these parachute payments.