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U-turn on pupil's bus fares

PUBLISHED: 08:53 17 November 2009 | UPDATED: 15:39 03 July 2010

Thousands of Norfolk parents, already under financial pressure from the recession, will not now face a big rise in the fees they have to pay to bus their teenager children to college.

Thousands of Norfolk parents, already under financial pressure from the recession, will not now face a big rise in the fees they have to pay to bus their teenager children to college.

Norfolk County Council, which has a multi-million pound funding shortfall in the next few years, had wanted to halve the annual post-16 transport subsidy - which would have led to a fare hike from £334 to £501 per student from next September.

But last night the county council announced a U-turn on the move, which had been branded “short-sighted” by college bosses who said it would have a “disproportionate impact” on young people from poorer families.

Shelagh Hutson, cabinet member for children's services, yesterday announced the decision to maintain the annual subsidy for the service at current levels.

After considering the possible impact on the uptake of post-16 education, Mrs Hutson asked officers to look elsewhere in the budget for savings.

She has written to colleges and sixth forms to thank them for their representations and to let them know that the proposal will not be pursued.

She said: “I absolutely understand people's concerns about this issue and equally why we had to look very closely at the level of subsidy this service receives. However, having listened to representations from across the community, I have decided that the current level of transport subsidy should not be reduced and that we will therefore continue to invest very heavily in this area for the benefit of our children.

“While it was right that we leave no stone unturned in our quest for budget savings, I am convinced this is the right decision at this time and have asked officers to look again for another solution to close the gap we face. This will be an extremely challenging task, but it is one on which we must deliver.

“This budget round is clearly very difficult and everyone should be aware that the outlook for the years ahead is extremely bleak, with the threat of severe cuts in public spending in the future."

Shane Mann, president of the Students' Union at City College, Norwich, said it was “fantastic news” the subsidy would not be cut.

He added: “We're extremely pleased and glad that the county council has decided to do a U-turn on this proposal and realised the effect it would've had on education in Norfolk.”

Post-16 transport is currently subsidised to the tune of £4m a year, with help given to more than 6,000 youngsters to travel to sixth forms and colleges. The level of subsidy in terms of bus passes and fuel costs in Norfolk is greater than that offered by most of its neighbouring authorities.

Despite a budget increase of £2.7m for 2010/11, increasing the total Children's Services net revenue budget to £169m, a shortfall of £10.5m remains. The department is facing tough choices for the year ahead, largely because of the increased costs of looking after the county's vulnerable children.

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