Students could march on County Hall over plans for massive hike in transport costs
- Credit: Archant � 2013
College students are set to march on County Hall in protest over plans that could see the cost of their travel passes nearly double as part of the council's effort to plug a projected £189m hole in its finances.
One Norfolk college described the proposed increase in the cost of subsidised travel passes from £468 to up to £850 a year from next September as 'pretty extreme'.
The costs for those from low-income families eligible for a reduced rate could rise from £351 to up to £638.
The City College Norwich students' union plans to contact other student bodies across the county, and has launched a Last Stop campaign against the proposals, with an online petition, and may organise a protest march similar to one in 2011 opposing the government's decision to axe the education maintenance allowance.
2006 - Petition against travel subsidy cut2006 - Big student bus fare increase agreed2009 - Anger over bus fare hike plans2009 - Bus subsidy delight for Norfolk parents2010 - College bus subsidy axe could price Norfolk students out of education2010 - Hundreds of Norwich students in protest march2013 - Bleak warnings that vulnerable will be hit by Norfolk cutsStudents' union president Elliot Page, 20, said the price rise could force students to take places in sixth form centres closer to home rather than at their first choice college.
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He said: 'Students are already struggling to get to college. Their only choice if the fare increase came in would be to go down the road to their local sixth form. The 16-19 bus subsidy is a lifeline for most students.'
This is the fifth time in a decade that County Hall has targeted student transport for cuts. Previous attempts have brought hundreds of students on to the streets, and seen councillors abandon their proposals or water them down.
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The council currently subsidises the travel of about 3,450 students aged between 16-19 to their nearest sixth form or college, at a cost of £2.9m a year.
It said it was under no legal duty to provide subsidised transport, and the proposed changes would save £1m in 2014-15, and a further £1m in 2015-16.
Mick Castle, cabinet member for schools, said: 'It's not a great message to parents out there, but all we can say is that we are aiming to keep support, but it will be reduced.'
Asked whether the increased costs could prevent some students going to college, he said: 'If you are in a situation where transport costs are an issue, it could impact, but it's one of the terrible things where, with the £189m we have to find, if we want to keep the children's centres going, something has to give.'
Corrienne Peasgood, principal at City College Norwich, said she was concerned the potential increase could harm students' ability to access to vocational courses the college offered uniquely through its café and external catering company, which helped to train the students for future careers.
She added: 'It is important for the future development of Norfolk that we get young people with the right skills to work in this facility. This matters especially when the number of young unemployed has risen for the third month running.'
Paul O'Shea, head of marketing and student services at the College of West Anglia in King's Lynn, said that for a college serving a large rural area, transport was always a potential barrier to accessing college.
He said: 'This proposal is pretty extreme in terms of the scale of the increase to the charges and would definitely have an impact on participation in post-16 education and increase pressure on the finances of ordinary families.'
He said that while colleges did have a 16-19 bursary fund, it was limited and colleges were 'very unlikely' to be able to use it to fund the additional costs students could face.
He added: 'There are many, many families, particularly in households where both parents are working, whose income is not low enough to qualify for support from the bursary fund but for whom finding an additional £300-400 a year to pay for their child's transport would be extremely difficult, making it less likely they would be able to continue in education.'
The proposals are part of Norfolk County Council's consultation on proposed budget savings for 2014-17. Respond to the consultation at www.norfolk.gov.uk/puttingpeoplefirst, email@example.com or Norfolk Putting People First, Norfolk County Council, Room 501, County Hall, Martineau Lane, Norwich, NR1 2DH by December 12.