Northumberland County Council is still paying ‘significant’ subsidies for student travel despite the recent introduction of post-16 charges.
The Labour-controlled authority has been criticised for deciding to impose fees of up to £600 for those attending sixth form or college.
However, the Department for Education appears to sympathise with the council judging by its response to a letter sent to the Prime Minister by concerned parent.
It says: “I note that Northumberland County Council (NCC) has changed the arrangements for 2014/15, although the £600 charge for the provision of transport for those students without access to public transport still represents a significant subsidy on the actual cost for the majority of students.
“I also note that the council intends to continue providing free transport for students from low income backgrounds, and for those with learning difficulties and disabilities.”
It continues: “I do, however, recognise that the majority of students entering post-16 education and training for the first time, in September 2014, will have to pay significantly more than they would have done previously.
“However, it is for the council to decide on the exact level of support in its area and arrangements may change from one year to the next, based on local circumstances and the council’s priorities.”
Labour claimed the Government’s stance is at odds with local Conservatives and Lib Dems who have campaigned against the council’s decision.
Council leader Grant Davey said: “It seems the Liberal Democrats are intent on continuing the party political games around the difficult decision to end free post 16 transport. The Lib Dem parliamentary candidate (Julie Porksen) should take heed of the Prime Minister’s office no less and she needs to explain how the council will make £32m worth of cuts this year alone without difficult decisions. Instead of playing increasingly desperate and cynical games she needs to explain why she thinks it’s a good deal for Northumberland’s tax payers to shell out £3.3m every year for just 1% of the population and why she’s in favour of shelling out £480,000 for rail passes for just 90 students for example.”
Councillor Peter Jackson, Conservative leader, countered: “Whatever reply the parents have had from sources at Whitehall, the situation on the ground is not acceptable and it is about time that the Labour-run county council started doing something about this really serious problem.”