Coalition tensions at the heart of government are being played out in Northumberland, according to the county’s Labour group.
The comments form the latest chapter of the ‘post 16’ saga, following the reintroduction of transport charges to education for students in Northumberland who are over 16,
The Labour-led council says the policy will save the authority over £3million, and claims that Lib Dem Parliamentary Candidate Julie Pörksen’s call to parents last week to submit formal complaints about the policy were contradicted by a letter sent on behalf of the Prime Minister, David Cameron, who agreed that it best set in Northumberland, not Whitehall.
Now Labour is calling for Tories and Lib Dems to stop ‘playing politics’ with post 16 education and is urging opposition councillors in Northumberland to “listen to the PM”.
The letter, sent by a senior official at the Department of Education, highlights that the decision taken to remove the subsidy was a ‘local decision’. The official went on to say “we do not believe it would be right to require authorities to meet every student’s individual transport needs”.
Now Labour politicians are accusing Ms Pörksen of ‘using coalition tensions in the Department of Education to undermine the policy’.
A Labour group spokesperson said: “This is a pretty cynical ruse by opposition councillors to stretch their party political campaign to derail a lawful policy of the authority.”
They added that opposition councillors and political hopefuls had “maintained the disgraceful silence” while their government slashed Northumberland’s grant, but were “happy to mislead parents”.
“It seems that there is division in the coalition in Westminster with the PM backing the council’s approach and an unnamed Lib Dem Education minister seeking to stir up parents,” the spokesperson said. “It means that the department is split. Who are we to believe – The PM or a Lib Dem parliamentary hopeful?”
The policy that post 16 students must foot the bill to travel to education on public transport or pay £600 a year to use a council-contracted service, came into force this month and will be reviewed in 12 months time.