College bus fares shock

Thousands of Norfolk parents, already under financial pressure from the recession, face a big rise in the fees they have to pay to bus their teenage children to college.

Thousands of Norfolk parents, already under financial pressure from the recession, face a big rise in the fees they have to pay to bus their teenage children to college.

Norfolk county council, which has a multi-million pound funding shortfall in the next few years, wants to halve the annual post-16 transport subsidy - meaning a fare hike from �334 to �501 per student from next September.

College leaders labelled the move “short-sighted” and predicted it would have a “disproportionate impact” on young people from poorer families.

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

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.

David Lawrence, principal of Easton College, near Norwich, said: “This will have a very negative effect. We recruit from all over Norfolk and I'm totally reliant on public transport to get pupils to college.

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“Quite a lot of them are from lower income backgrounds and this will have a disproportionate impact on them. To put even more hurdles in the way of those least able to access education is short-sighted. We would encourage the council to give this funding priority.”

Norwich City College principal Dick Palmer said: “Students already find it really difficult to manage their financial commitments travelling around the county, where transport provision is pretty sparse.

“A large number cannot afford private transport and subsidies like this are essential to their being able to access the provision they want and need.

“We would want to speak to the county council to show them that making that investment is investing in the future skills of the economy. We all have to cut our cloth, but creating barriers to access to skills and education is not going to help us to get out of the recession.”

Shane Mann, president of City College's student union, said: “There will be a place for young people at college, but Norfolk County Council will stop them getting there. It is putting a brick wall between students and education. We will not let this pass without a fight.”

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 will be debated by the children's services overview panel on Wednesday, would see the subsidy cut to 25pc for most students and 50pc for the neediest young people, whose fare 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 move, which could save the council �500,000 per year, comes at a time when growing numbers of families and young people are struggling to make ends meet as the recession continues to bite.

And it coincides with a big increase in the number of teenagers going to college at 16 - partly to boost their skills and partly to mark time while the economy picks up.

Three years ago the council caused uproar among students by cutting the subsidy on fares to increase what students paid from �235 to �318 per year.

Mrs Hutson said: “We are facing a very tough year in terms of financial planning, brought about by a combination of the increased costs of protecting young people and what remains a dire financial climate.

“We need to make savings that have the smallest possible impact on Norfolk's children and young people. We need to ensure we are continuing to help the most vulnerable and focusing our resources where they are most needed.”

t What do you think about the proposed college bus subsidy cut? Are you a student or a parent who will be hit hard? Call Steve Downes on 01603 772495 or email Alternatively, read Steve's blog about the issue and post your comments at