Dear Councillor Jackson,
Thank you for your opinion with regard to the regrettable changes we have to make to post 16 transport.. I think you will agree that circumstances have changed since this policy was introduced in 2008 when a Labour government was significantly supporting local authorities by rightly focussing resources on education and disadvantage.
The free Post 16 Transport Scheme was introduced at a time when the Council was awash with cash. Compare that to the decisions taken by this Conservative led and Liberal propped up coalition. You may benefit from a short history lesson in case you have forgotten that this council has lost 1/3 of its total budget by cuts from a government you support.
During 2009 Labour gave council's extra cash to help schools, Childrens Centres & Sure Start schemes which were centrally enhanced and the Labour government installed a fully funded Educational Maintenance Allowance which was paid out to those pupils who qualified, to assist with their Post 16 educational needs.
Northumberland Labour Group fully supported the introduction of the free post 16 transport scheme in 2008.
Moving on to today, The Liberals backed out of their educational promise to stop tuition fees, scrapped Educational Maintenance Allowance and joined with the Conservatives to drive forward an austerity programme which has meant cuts for local councils especially in the North East while protecting council expenditure across the South East of England.
I've not heard a word raised in protest by you at this shameless 'reverse Robin Hood policy' which takes from the poorest and gives to the richest.
Under Government plans you support, Councillor Jackson, Northumberland UA must lose another quarter of its revenue budget over the next three years. From 2008-2013 your joint administration with the Liberal Democrats took out 1500 jobs from the Councils workforce, causing dreadful hardship for families particularly in areas of higher unemployment in the South East and Rural Coalfield areas of the County. Our policy is the opposite because we see by backing the Northumberland economy, we can maintain jobs and family income levels in order to support communities County wide; therefore we must look at other methods and matters to meet the aspirations of your Government to reduce the spend of the Council.
The £600 charge you refer to is about equality. Young people from the South East and the Rural Coalfield who don't qualify for assistance will have to pay exactly the same amount if they live three miles or more from their chosen in County establishment to gain access to any vacancies on the 'School Bus'.
Every young person at age 16 carries £4425 per annum in fees to complete their education with them to their chosen FE environment, whether that be their local school or an FE college. This money is no longer handled by the Council, so all costs in relation to transporting Post 16's to school or college falls directly onto our revenue budget.
Acceptance of the report to the Policy Board leaves £900,000 per year in the scheme to protect second year students and assist those in greatest need gain access to their local school or college. It also gifts the opportunity to Schools and FE Colleges to use some of the cash available to them from Government to attract young people to their establishments.
This policy is driven by the decisions of your government to hammer the budget that allowed for choices like free post 16 transport. Unlike your government though, this administration will protect the most vulnerable and most disadvantaged youngsters and our hope is that you get behind our plan to halt 'Northumberland's brain drain to Tyne and Wear colleges and instead start to speak up for the county education system which has lost £28m to Tyne and Wear since 2008.
J Grant Davey
Leader Northumberland Labour Group
Leader of Northumberland County Council UA.