Saturday, 5 July 2014

Restrictions on 16-18 Transport Funding

A lot has been written about Northumberland County Council's decision to reduce funding for home to school transport for students aged 16 to 18. I am sure that this decision was a difficult one; no Labour activist gets involved with local politics to cut services that are relied on by young people.

Map first published in the Journal
The Tory government are not demanding that all councils make such tough choices. The burden of austerity is not equally shared; there are councils such as those in some of the most well off areas in Hampshire, where the amount they receive back from central government has actually increased whereas NCC is required to cut £130m.

Austerity is not just a word we hear on the news. It is not just about efficiency savings and 'working smarter'. It is impossible for cuts of such magnitude to have no effect on people's lives. Home to school transport has already been removed by neighbouring authorities. Northumberland have managed to provide it for two extra years compared with other councils facing similar budget cuts.

There has been been some scaremongering from Tories, led by the sitting MP for Hexham, but to clarify: There will still be some funding for transport. Northumberland college will use some of the funding it receives to provide a bus service from Hexham to its campuses. Students whose parents are on low incomes will still get a bus pass. There is also ongoing work to negotiate reasonable rates for bus passes.

I can't welcome the decision to restrict funding for home to school transport, and I don't agree with some of the justification for it. As well as a Parliamentary Candidate I am Branch Secretary of the University and Colleges Union at Newcastle College. Many of my students attend college in Newcastle because their chosen course is not available close by. Restricting home to school transport could have an impact on student numbers and therefore jobs at Newcastle College. And while it might be true that Northumberland County Council has been paying to export students to Tyne and Wear, I don't think that in itself is a reason to cut transport.

The disparaging remarks about the quality of post 16 education in Northumberland from a Tory councillor are out of date and out of touch. I doubt if the councillor in question has any experience of 6th form or Further Education provision in the County. In the Hexham Constituency alone we have the outstanding QE 6th form and Northumberland College's Kirkley Hall campus where success rates for 16-18 year olds have risen, and are now in the top 10% nationally.

We must not lose sight of the fact that the provision is only being reduced because of the disproportionate impact of government cuts on North East councils. Transport spending on London is £400 per head while in our region the figure is less than £18.

The council has also received criticism for not holding the July meeting when this decision could have been discussed. The criticism from the sitting MP for Hexham at first seems justified 'council running scared' etc. Until you learn that not one alternative motion had been put forward for discussion at the meeting by either the Tories or the Libdems!

Instead of trying to stop his own government from targeting our council, by imposing cuts that are way above the national average, Hexham's Tory MP is now looking to legally challenge the basis for cancelling a meeting which would have cost £18,000 to hold. The only people that benefit from this sort of childish behaviour are expensive lawyers. Taxpayers will no doubt end up footing the bill if this goes any further.

I wish the council wasn't forced into making such choices, but unfortunately this government has chosen to pursue an austerity-only approach to economic recovery which is failing our region. Tory MPs in parliament have voted for these cuts but then Tories in Northumberland oppose their implementation. If Conservatives are looking for division, they don't have to look very far.


Linda Hammond said...

Have you got children that will be affected by the scrapping of free 16+ transport?

Unknown said...

My children are both still at primary school. I worry that if we have 5 more years of this government Councils will only be providing statutory services, home to school transport, play area maintainance and youth services are all under threat.

Linda Hammond said...

I agree.... and I don't think it will stop with schools either, I fear it may extend to other services we currently take fore granted. I work at HMP Northumberland, and look what happened to us! The reason for asking my original question, was to get your prospective on the proposals from a parent's rather than a political point of view..... but it won't affect your children... for now.