Monday, 3 March 2014

“We’re challenging them to back our schools and colleges as we implement ConDem cuts to county budget’ – Councillor Scott Dickinson, Druridge Bay

“We’re challenging them to back our schools and colleges as we implement ConDem cuts to county budget’ – Councillor Scott Dickinson, Druridge Bay

Labour councillors in North Northumberland have come out fighting as they challenge claims made by Liberal Democrat MP Sir Alan Beith and his hopeful successor that ‘proposals over changes to post 16 transport haven’t been thought through’. The scheme to provide free transport to all eligible youngsters which has grown by 323% since its introduction in 2008/09 has recently come under fire for encouraging a ‘Northumberland education cash drain’ as figures released by the County Council show a massive loss to education budgets in the county of £6.5m next year. Labour claim that’s unfair and that local Lib Dems have chosen to play politics with the issue of education in Northumberland.
They point to the need to make savings of £32.5m this year alone as part of the ConDem coalition budget cuts. They also point out that Sir Alan Beith has voted with every government Finance Bill in parliament and are accusing him of ‘hypocrisy’ as he supports successive government raids on local government finances.
Labour are setting out their proposals for post 16 travel against a plan to safeguard education budgets in the county and are questioning the value of a policy that costs Northumberland’s schools and colleges a staggering £6.5m a year. Labour claim local schools and colleges have lost over £28m since the introduction of free post 16 travel.
Labour Business Chair and Councillor Scott Dickinson who represents Druridge Bay said
‘It seems local Liberal Democrats want to have their cake and eat it. First Sir Alan votes with the Tories to cut council budgets by over 25% year on year and then he complains about the effects on his constituents. We want to make sure that education in Northumberland becomes the first choice for its children and young people and we don’t think it’s fair on schools and colleges in the county to subsidise the likes of Newcastle College. Under our proposals travel to schools and colleges will continue to be free as part of our ‘Support our Schools and Colleges’ campaign. The county’s education system has lost an estimated £28m since the introduction of subsidised travel to out of county educational establishments and we don’t think that’s either fair or sustainable. I’m challenging Liberals to back our schools and colleges by supporting our plans for free transport to those education establishments’.

• When charges were last in place in 2007/08 academic year the number of students on the P16 travel scheme was in the region of 850. That number has now risen to 3600, i.e. the scheme has grown 323% in terms of student numbers over the course of the last 5 years.
• Recent analysis of the current free student travel scheme demonstrates that whilst the number of students remaining in post 16 education since charges were last in place (2007/08) has remained largely static, although slightly reduced, the Council is paying for a far greater proportion of their transport costs, we now provide free travel for 51% of P16 students.
• In fact there were 7821 students in P16 education in October 2008 (coinciding with the commencement of the free student travel scheme) but by October 2012 the numbers had in fact slightly declined to 6976 students thereby demonstrating that the free scheme has not been successful in encouraging more students to remain in P16 education. In other words the free student travel scheme appears to be largely “deadweight”; funding mainly those who would have gone into further education without it.
• There is also the loss of education funds to Northumberland based learner providers as a result of students choosing to access courses at out of county establishments.
• We estimate that since the free student travel scheme was implemented this cost to the schools organisation in Northumberland is in the region of £28m and if current arrangements are maintained we can expect this annual cost to the school budget to be in the region of £6.5m a year.

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