Monday, 1 November 2010

Cornwall Cabinet told to think again on Post-16 education transport subsidies

At today's Children's Scrutiny Committee, the Conservative led Cabinet's proposal to remove the subsidy it provides to help young people over the age of 16 to get to colleges was debated.

I spoke in the subsequent debate and asked for details of the young people who would be affected by this proposal. In North Cornwall (and in particular in Launceston) we have the lowest take up of post 16 education in Cornwall. I therefore made the point that young people in our area would be disproportionately affected by this proposal.

The Cabinet proposal also claimed that local colleges would be able to 'take up the slack' and Conservative Leader Alec Robertson said that just because the Council was withdrawing the subsidy didn't mean that the service would be withdrawn. So I asked what conversations they had had with colleges about them providing the subsidy instead. I was staggered to be told that no communications had been held at all with colleges on this subject. It seems incredible that the Council should be putting young people's education in jeopardy on such an assumption. Local colleges have also seen their budgets cut and may well not be able to take on extra responsibilities. Even if they are, to a certain extent education is a numbers game with colleges being funded for every student they enrol. If a college is to subsidise pupils then they will find it more cost effective to subsidise those who love nearby. Students from far away from the colleges, whether it be those on the Lizard or in North Cornwall, will be hit hardest.

It soon became clear that the Cabinet Member - Neil Burden - was not comfortable with his own Cabinet's budget proposal in this area. He made it clear that he did not know the details of what was being proposed or who or what areas will be affected. Once again, we are being asked to buy a pig in a poke - being told that we should agree a budget without being told the details.

In the end, the committee asked the Cabinet to think again about this issue, to see whether the post 16 subsidy could be retained and the savings found from the wider school transport budget. If this cannot be done then we will need to look to find the monies from somewhere else in the Council's budget.

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