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Student travel funding under discussion

PUBLISHED: 08:00 05 June 2006 | UPDATED: 10:57 22 October 2010

ED FOSS

Student leaders last night described as "snide" the timing of a consultation exercise into controversial plans to increase travel costs for thousands of Norfolk teenagers.

Student leaders last night described as "snide" the timing of a consultation exercise into controversial plans to increase travel costs for thousands of Norfolk teenagers.

Proposals to shake up the price of travel to college for those over 16 years old will come under the spotlight again today when the issue is discussed at a meeting of Norfolk County Council's cabinet.

The council's Tory leadership wants to introduce a 50pc rise in charges for most students, meaning at least another £100 a year.

They also want to charge youngsters with learning difficulties and halve the current 100pc concession for those from low income backgrounds.

Since the plans were first raised, education bosses, students and politicians have said the changes could dash the hopes of young people and prevent some from going to college.

Council leaders have defended the proposals, saying they are equivalent to "one pint of beer a week" and would save the county nearly £900,000 a year.

But further concerns have now been raised about the consultation process into the plans, which should start in a week and last until the middle of September.

Jamie Smith, vice-president of the students' union at Norwich City College, said: "We are annoyed that the process is going to take place while many students are caught up working hard for their exams and then on their summer holidays.

"They could do this anytime, yet they choose this time of year. It feels sneaky and snide."

Mr Smith said that despite these concerns, he and his student union colleagues across Norfolk would be "mobilising the student movement across the county" and encouraging as many people as possible to contribute to the consultation.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said he was worried about the impact of the planned changes on rural areas and low income households.

He was also concerned about the potential for reversing the county's recent improvement in post-16 educational retention rates, which had been very poor in the past.

"We should be making it easier for the post-16s, but this plan takes it in the opposite direction. I don't think that is sensible."

Mr Lamb added that the council should carefully consider the students' "legitimate concerns" about the timing of the consultation.

Rosalie Monbiot, the council's cabinet member for children's services, said there was a need to make significant savings in light of a poor financial settlement from the government. Post-16 transport was a discretionary service and so the council had to consider cutting its cloth accordingly.

Mrs Monbiot said the council "would certainly take into consideration" all responses to the consultation.

The proposals would not be implemented until the 2007/08 school year and may be phased in over two years.


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