Northumberland County Council has revealed that it has received very few bus pass applications for students going into post-16 education this September.
It comes after the council decided to scrap free transport for over 16s, voting instead to introduce a £600 yearly charge for students using council contracted services to get to school or college.
Despite a robust campaign from families in rural areas, who feel their children are being penalised, the charging policy remains in place for the coming school year.
But with only a week to go until the start of the new term, council staff say they have recieved only a few applications from over 16s for a £600 bus pass.
Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Conservative parliamentary candidate for Berwick who was heavily involved in the ‘Stop The Teenage Tax’ campaign, is urging rural families with children going into post-16 education to apply for their bus passes now.
She said: “If there is a public transport option available to students, thanks to Labour those pupils will no longer be able to get onto the school bus at all. But for those who are eligible to use the school bus, and for those on very low incomes who meet the strict criteria set by Labour councillors, they need to send in their forms so that the council officers can get their bus passes sorted out.”
Mrs Trevelyan explained that High Schools were trying to provide transitional support for any families that fall just outside the free school transport support group, and said it was important that parents apply so that county hall staff could link them in with schools.
“It would be a tragedy to see those kids missing out on the chance to further their education and find the council picking them up through children’s services,” Mrs Trevelyan added.
“Council officers are trying to implement new policy – however flawed – and need families to send in their application forms so that bus passes can be processed.
“The County Council has agreed to be flexible on the £200 up-front payment which has been demanded by the new Labour policy, so I urge parents to contact the council with the application form which can also be found online.”
Mrs Trevelyan is particularly concerned with the effect that the policy will have for students who have chosen vocational courses outside Northumberland because there is not an appropriate course in-county, and is calling on county council leaders to agree to support students who have long distances to travel because they are unable to find similar courses within the county for the 2014-15 year.
She said: “This change will mean that young people, in rural areas in particular, will be discriminated against as many have to travel long distances. Many of these now feel that they have no choice but to pull out of further education opportunities because of the travel costs involved. We should be encouraging learning to be easier to access, not making it more difficult.”
She added: “This transitional support will be more important than ever under new laws requiring education or training up to age 18, which come into force in September.”