The axing of the £600 transport charge for post-16 students in Northumberland, dubbed the teenage tax by critics, is to be signed off by councillors.
Prior to September 2014, 16 to 18-year-olds were not charged to travel to school or college, but the previous Labour administration introduced the fee in a bid to save millions a year.
Providing free transport for post-16 students is not a statutory requirement for councils and even with a £600 charge, the income didn’t cover the costs and it remained a subsidised service.
But the introduction of the policy four years ago was deeply unpopular, particularly in rural areas of the county, and the Conservatives promised to abolish the charge in the lead-up to the council elections last May.
Having seized control of the council, the Tories used their first budget in February to allocate £2.2million over the next two years to meet this manifesto pledge, with the council leader Peter Jackson insisting a new scheme would be in place for the start of the school year in September.
A new policy has to be in place by May 31 for it to apply from September and, at its meeting on Tuesday, May 8, the council’s cabinet is due to approve the new rules, which will provide free transport for Northumberland residents travelling to a full-time course at their ‘nearest appropriate provider’, ie, the nearest place where the course a student wishes to do is provided.
Students (with some exceptions) will also have to pay a one-off administration fee of £50, which is designed to cover the additional workload for council staff as well as deter anyone who may apply just to have a free bus pass even if they do not plan to use it very often.
The consultation received 115 responses, less than a fifth of the number when the charge was introduced, with 97 per cent either fully or partially agreeing with the reintroduction of free transport and 70 per cent fully or partially agreeing with the administration fee.
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service