Big student bus fare increase agreed

STEVE DOWNES Norfolk's students were told today that they would have to find extra cash equivalent to “less than a pint of beer a week” as a controversial rise in college bus fares was passed.

STEVE DOWNES

Norfolk's students were told today that they would have to find extra cash equivalent to “less than a pint of beer a week” as a controversial rise in college bus fares was passed.

Members of Norfolk County Council's cabinet agreed the 50pc rise in charges to most students despite a loud demonstration before the meeting by 200 young people from across the county.

They angrily protested that the cut in the current post-16 transport subsidy would stop many young people - particularly from poorer backgrounds and rural areas - being able to afford further education.


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But cabinet heard that at least half of the nearly 3,000 people consulted had backed the move - and independent consultants had found that increased charges “did not seem to impact on” the number of students in post-16 education.

During the meeting Rosalie Monbiot, cabinet member for children's services, said: “We have to make £7m of savings in children's services next year. We have to balance costs and charges and have to look at the discretionary services we offer.”

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She said the consultation was “one of the largest this council has ever done”, and added that students would be paying £318 per year in 2007/8, compared with £235 without the increase.

“That £83 increase is less than a pint of beer a week, or a cup of coffee.”

Adrian Gunson said: “If we were not to go ahead with this, we would have to get the money from somewhere else, like cutting rural bus subsidies. Without those subsidies, post-16 youngsters wouldn't have a bus to travel on anyway.”

After the meeting Jonathan Lovatt, president of Norwich City College students' union, said: “This decision is going to affect thousands of teenagers wanting to go to college. Nobody knows our students better than we do, and they've been constantly saying they will have to leave college because they can't afford these charges.”

His view was supported by the protesters beforehand.

Gavin Le-Calvez, 16, catches a bus from Dereham to Norwich City College, where he is studying ICT and aiming to eventually become a plumber.

He said: “At the moment I don't have to pay, I have a free bus pass. Without it I won't be able to afford to get to college. With it I can get to secondary education and do the career I want to do.”

Hayleigh Southwell, 16, has a one-and-a-half-hour bus trip to Norwich City College from Watton. She also has a free bus pass.

“Basically, I won't be able to afford to get into college every day. Half the people I know won't be able to stay in education.”

The new subsidy package means students will pay half the average annual cost of mainstream transport (£318 per year in 2007), compared with the current one-third.

Student from low income families will pay half the cost of the other young people - £159 from 2007, compared with nothing at the moment.

Students with learning difficulties or disabilities will pay for transport for the first time, at the same rate as the majority of young people, £318 per year.

Cabinet also agreed to introduce a system to give temporary financial help to students in “exceptional circumstances”.

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