Anger over bus fare hike plans

Proposals to reduce bus subsidies for post-16 students in Norfolk, as part of a raft of measures to plug a funding shortfall at the county council, have been met with anger.

Proposals to reduce bus subsidies for post-16 students in Norfolk, as part of a raft of measures to plug a funding shortfall at the county council, have been met with anger.

There was heated debate at a Norfolk County Council meeting yesterday as the authority's plans to tackle a multimillion-pound shortfall came under the spotlight.

The council is considering halving the annual post-16 transport subsidy - meaning a fare hike from �334 to �501 a student - from next September.

Speaking at a meeting of the children's services overview and scrutiny panel, Beverley Spratt, councillor for the West Depwade area, said: “In rural areas I do not know how these children are going to get to their schools. I think it is essential that they are given support.”

Long Stratton councillor Alison Thomas added: “What if someone has more than one child around the same age? My friend has triplets. The transport system and how their child is getting to college is a major consideration for parents.

“Some rural schools also have no sixth-form provision, so a lot of parents are going to be left with no choice but to pay for their child to have sixth-form education.”

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Bus fares are currently 50pc subsidised by the county council, which also pays 75pc of the fares of young people from the poorest backgrounds.

The proposed changes, which would save the council �500,000 per year, would see the subsidy cut to 25pc for most students and to 50pc for the neediest young people, whose fares would rise from �167 to �334 per year.

It could affect more than 6,000 students. Currently, 3,874 get a 50pc subsidy and 2,259 of the poorest students qualify for the 75pc subsidy.

The proposal is part of a package of �10.5m of proposed savings and cuts to shore up the children's services budget for 2010/11, including, reducing the number of services provided by voluntary organisations

Other proposed children's services cuts include, cutting back on using taxis for social care trips, and reducing the subsidy to schools that use Holt and Wells study centres.

Shelagh Hutson, the council's cabinet member for children's services, said savings were necessary because the council was facing a tough year financially.

Children's services director Lisa Christensen told the meeting: “We have tried to find the solutions which will have the minimum impact on the delivery of services used by children and young people and families.”

Bert Bremner, councillor for the University division, said: “The realisation of this has been one of horror among students at the City College [Norwich]. They have promised if this goes ahead they will take mobilising action.

“I hope you are prepared for marches on County Hall because that is what will happen.”

The comments from the meeting will go to cabinet in a few weeks. The issue will be the subject of a 12-week consultation from November 16 because it involves a potential change of council policy.

Speaking before the meeting, Thetford town councillor Terry Jermy said: “As a 24-year-old member of the council, it was not all that long ago that I was personally having to travel from Thetford to Norwich regularly to complete my A-levels, a cost which I had to pay myself as my parents could not afford it.

“I feel students from Thetford will be particularly disadvantaged if this goes ahead. We have limited access to A-level courses in this town and therefore people need to travel.”