Opinions are being sought about controversial plans to axe free post-16 transport for further education students.
Northumberland County Council is seeking views on its plans to stop providing free transport for 16-19 year old students.
At the Liberal Democrat Conference held in York last weekend, Julie Pörksen, prospective parliamentary candidate for Berwick, gained widespread support for the campaign she is running to keep free travel for students in Northumberland aged 16-18.
“I went to the Lib Dem conference with the aim of raising the issue of young people’s travel and specifically post-16 transport with government ministers, parliamentarians and campaigners and gaining their support for my campaign,” Julie said.
“On Saturday Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, told me he agreed with me that need to work on a solution for post-16 transport to school and college. Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister, also raised his concerns about the wider issue of the cost of public transport for young people when I discussed the subject with him on Sunday.”
Northumberland County Council is consulting on proposals for the post-16 transport scheme.
Currently the scheme provides two years free transport for post-16 students who live more than three miles from the nearest further education provider that offers their chosen course or a similar one.
However, these arrangements are costing the authority £3.3million a year, with the number of students claiming free transport increasing from 800 to 3,500+ over the past six years.
The council is asking for opinions on three proposed options: To withdraw the current student travel scheme completely; to re-introduce a charge for transport; or to limit what transport costs the council will pay for.
Residents are welcome to make their own alternative suggestions on the future of the post-16 transport scheme.
Councillor Ian Swithenbank, policy board member for streetcare and environment, said: “We are looking at a range of options for the post-16 transport scheme and we want everyone to have the chance to give us their views before any decisions are made.
“However, even at this early stage, we are committed to putting measures in place to protect some of our most vulnerable groups such as students with special educational needs, as well as students from low income families.”
Feedback received during consultation, which is open until May 19, will be presented in a report to the council’s policy board by the end of May, when a decision will be made on whether or not to approve any of the proposed changes.
Responses can be made using an online form or by post. For more information and a response form go to northumberland.gov.uk/post16 or phone 0845 600 6400.
Julie’s petition to retain free school and college transport for 16-18 year olds in Northumberland can be signed at www.berwicklibdems.org.uk