COALITION SPLIT OVER POST 16 EDUCATION POLICY IN NORTHUMBERLAND
PM and Lib Dems at odds over ‘Post 16 advice’
Coalition tensions at the heart of government are being played out in Northumberland claim Labour as it emerged that calls from a senior Lib Dem in the county to ‘complain to the council’ were contradicted by a letter sent on behalf of PM David Cameron who agreed that the council’s policy was best set in Northumberland not Whitehall.
Now Labour are calling for Tories and Lib Dems to stop playing politics with post 16 education and are urging opposition councillors in Northumberland to ‘listen to the PM’. The letter was sent by a senior official at the Department of Education and it highlights that the decision taken to remove the subsidy was a ‘local decision’ and that 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”.
Labour politicians have repeatedly warned that unnecessary ‘scaremongering’ by opposition politicians would mean extra costs for the policy which is programmed to save the council over £3m over the course of this council term. They are accusing the Lib Dem parliamentary candidate in Berwick 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. Opposition councillors and political hopefuls have maintained the disgraceful silence while their government slashes Northumberland’s grant and yet they’re happy to mislead parents”.
“It seems that 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. It means that the department is split. Who are we to believe – The PM or a Lib Dem parliamentary hopeful”?
“Opposition politicians had an opportunity to call in the policy when it was discussed and agreed by the council’s Policy Board yet they failed to do that. Now they’re resorting to unnecessary extraordinary meetings and posturing motions which will only end up costing the tax payer more”.
Labour are highlighting that the policy is already underway and that when it was passed it included a commitment to review the effectiveness of the measures after 12 months. If parents have legitimate concerns then they can contact the council through the officer and executive member who are responsible for the implementation of the policy. The contact address is : firstname.lastname@example.org – Executive Director and
Ian.email@example.com – Portfolio Holder responsible for implementation
Notes for Editors
Article from Berwick Advertiser dated 26 Aug 2014 reproduced below
Letter from Department of Education on behalf of the PM
‘Formal complaint should be submitted’
Liberal Democrat campaigner Julie Pörksen is urging parents and students affected by the post 16 transport charges to make a formal complaint.
Northumberland County Council’s new system of charging for post-16 travel to school comes into force next month despite objections from rural areas of the county.
Ms Pörksen, who has requested an intervention by the Secretary of State, said: “The Department of Education state that intervention would only be considered if complaints processes have been exhausted locally.
“I am therefore calling on parents and students who have been objecting to this policy to write into the council and make formal complaints, either about being refused free transport on an individual basis or about the wider unfairness of the policy in general.
“We can then go back to the Secretary of State and request further support.”
Thank you for your email of 1 July, addressed to the Prime Minister, expressing your concerns about the cost of transport to education and training for 16 to 19 years olds, in Northumberland. I hope you are able to appreciate the Prime Minister receives a large amount of correspondence and is unable to reply to each one personally. Your letter has been passed to this department as we have responsibility for this policy area and on this occasion I have been asked to reply.
Letter sent from Department of Education on behalf of PM David Cameron
Whilst I acknowledge your concerns, I should explain that the statutory responsibility for transport to education and training for this area rests with local authorities (LAs), enabling them to make decisions which best match local needs and circumstances.
The wide range of options available to post-16 students means that they often travel to a diverse range of locations and at different times of day - sometimes across a wide area and across LA boundaries. So we do not believe it would be right to require authorities to meet every student’s individual transport needs.
The law covering the provision of transport for young people aged 16 to 19 requires LAs to publish a statement each year, setting out the support they consider necessary for young people to access education or training. These arrangements do not have to include free or subsidised transport, but LAs are expected to make reasonable decisions based on the needs of their population, the local transport infrastructure and the resources they have available.
The actual transport provided by LAs varies but most young people (including in rural areas) do have access to some kind of discount or concession on local bus or train travel - either from their LA or from the local transport providers. The government supports local bus travel, including in rural areas, through the Bus Service Operators Grant.
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. The Council’s post-16 transport statement can be found at: http://www.northumberland.gov.uk/default.aspx?page=457.
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.
If you think that the Council is not fulfilling its post-16 transport duty you should take it up directly with officials at NCC and you can do that by contacting Barry Rowlands, Director for Local Services, via the following e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Government does recognise that the cost of transport can be an issue for some young people and this is one of the reasons why it has introduced the 16 to 19 Bursary Fund. The £180million fund is allocated to schools and colleges, and is distributed to financially disadvantaged young people who need additional support to help them with costs such as transport. Further information about the Bursary Fund can be found at:www.gov.uk/1619-bursary-fund.
I hope you find this information useful.
Your correspondence has been allocated reference number 2014/0046934. If you need to respond to us, please visit: www.education.gov.uk/contactus and quote your reference number.
As part of our commitment to improving the service we provide to our customers, we are interested in hearing your views and would welcome your comments via our website at: www.education.gov.uk/pcusurvey
Ministerial and Public Communications Division