Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Post 16 School Transport Update

Post 16 School Transport Update You will be aware that we have recently changed our policy on Post-16 student transport, therefore, I thought it would be helpful to clarify the current position. This letter will explain the background to the decision, the exemptions and other actions the council is taking to support you and your family. The decision by Policy Board has not been taken lightly. Cuts in funding have made it necessary for the council to reduce or curtail the provision of a number of discretionary services. Background The council receives no separate funding for Post-16 transport, and is very unusual in that it is one of the last authorities still offering free transport for Post-16 students. The cost of providing free Post 16 student transport has nearly tripled to £3.3 million per year from £1.2 million per year in 2008 when the free scheme was introduced. Since that time the number of students benefiting from free transport has risen from 850 to 3500, over this time the number of students attending post 16 education has fallen slightly. Of the 3500 students currently benefitting from free post 16 student transport, about 1400 (40%) choose to attend out of county establishments such as Newcastle College and Tyne Met College. This has resulted in a loss of potential income to Northumberland-based learning providers in the region of £28 million since 2008, which equates to £4475 per pupil per year. This reduction in post 16 students reduces the scope of the county’s schools and colleges to expand their curriculum and could undermine the viability of post-16 provision in certain cases. Exemptions Whilst a decision was made to remove the current free post 16 student travel scheme the council listened to concerns raised during the consultation process and the following exemptions were included. 1. Existing students who are already receiving free transport to a Sixth Form or Further Education College will continue to do so. There will be no change to their travel arrangements. 2. Students with a statement of special educational need (SEN) 3. Students from low-income families – defined as those who would qualify for a free school meal. Families who are claiming any of the following benefits/support can benefit from free transport: a) Income Support b) Income-based jobseeker’s allowance c) Income-related employment and support allowance d) Guarantee credit of pension credit e) Child Tax Credit (but not entitled to Working Tax Credit) where your annual income, as shown on your Tax Credit award notice is £16,190 or less. f) 16-18 year-olds receiving the above benefits or tax credits in their own right g) Asylum seekers in receipt of support provided under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 This will mean that nearly 1 in 5 of all students will continue to be able to travel free of charge. Protecting these two key groups will continue to cost the Council in the region of £900,000 a year. Application Process The travel scheme and its website are now open and I encourage you to familiarise yourself with the new Post-16 Transport Policy. If you feel your child meets any of the criteria that we use to determine eligibility for either (i) assistance with transport costs or (ii) travel on school bus services commissioned by the Council then I would encourage you to apply as early as possible. This will ensure your child is in receipt of their travel permit in good time before the start of the new Academic Year in September. There are two transport application forms, one for existing Post 16 students and one for students entering Post 16 education in September. Please ensure the correct form is completed. Further information is available on the school transport webpage which you can find at http://www.northumberland.gov.uk/Default.aspx?page=457#post16 However, if you require a paper copy of the application form this can be posted to you. Other actions we are taking to support Post 16 students Withdrawing funding for Post-16 student travel places an additional financial burden on families and in order to ensure that the best range of travel options are available the council is taking the following measures: 1.Working with schools to target their bursary funds to students in financial hardship who don’t qualify for financial support from the Council. 2.Where appropriate public transport is available then students will be expected to use this, however, in some circumstances, particularly in rural areas, appropriate public transport will not be available. In these locations the council will then continue to provide school transport through existing contracts. The council will have to charge students for places on these services and this charge will be £600 per year, which equates to £3 a day. The actual average cost of providing this transport is over £900 per year. If your child needs to apply for a place on one of these buses then you should use the application process as set out above. The application forms explain the flexible payment options available. 3.Where families need to use contracted school bus services provided through the Council and elect to pay the cost of school transport by direct debit, there will be no additional charge 4.In some locations schools are working with the council to purchase existing spaces on these services for their students. You should talk to your school about their proposed approach. 5.Discussions have taken place with Arriva, the County’s principal supplier of local bus services and they have agreed to introduce a new range of student travel tickets which will offer students good value for money travel along with flexible payment options and the facility to travel at any time of the day during the Academic Year. The travel passes will offer students travel within a particular zone or between zones. There are a number of zones and each zone will represent a particular geographical area e.g. Blyth Valley or Morpeth. The costs will range from £430 a year for a one zone pass; £530 a year for a two zone pass and £660 for a three zones or more pass, which will cover all of Northumberland, Newcastle and North Tyneside. The council have worked closely with Arriva to ensure that for the vast majority of students the purchase of a one zone pass will be sufficient to enable them to travel to and from their local high school. The purchase of two or three zone tickets will be required if longer distance travel is undertaken. Arriva are working on direct debit facilities for annual ticket purchases which will enable families to buy these zonal tickets at the prices quoted without the need to make one big payment. Further details will be available shortly via our website and Arriva’s. 6.The council is in discussion with other bus companies to ensure they also offer students good value travel tickets to and from their local school or college. 7.For students who wish to pursue vocational courses that are not available at their local school, Northumberland College is putting in place the following transport facilities. The college has recently been judged by Ofsted as Good and they are ranked fourth nationally for the quality of their Post-16 provision. •A free bus service between Berwick and Northumberland College in Ashington, this service will also stop at key locations such as Alnwick. •The current Morpeth to Ashington Campus bus service will be retained. •an additional service to their Kirkley Hall and Ashington campus is being arranged-parents and students should contact the Colleges directly about this. Further Information Further updates on the various initiatives being taken by the Council, schools, colleges and bus companies will be announced over this and coming weeks. I realise that you will want to see the detail behind such announcements as soon as possible and appreciate that not all of them will be relevant to every family. We will ensure that all updates, including those from other suppliers, are placed on the Council’s School Transport website and the link you need to follow is: http://www.northumberland.gov.uk/STpolicy Whilst charging for a service that is currently provided free will never be popular, I hope this note provides you with some reassurance that steps are being taken and will continue to be taken to help students continue to access Post-16 educational opportunities.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Northumberland County Council must cut its revenue budget by £130M over a 4 year period to meet government cuts imposed by the Tories and LibDem government

Post 16 Transport Information: Northumberland County Council

 Northumberland County Council must cut its revenue budget by £130M over a four year period to meet Government targets.

 Post 16 Transport is a non-mandatory service.

 Schools and FE Colleges receive £4425 per post 16 learner.

 Northumberland County Council receives £0 per post 16 learner.

 49% of post 16 learners choose to stay within Northumberland to advance their learning.

 The 51% of learners who chose education outside Northumberland have removed £28M from the in-County Education system through the former post 16 transport policy.

 It costs Northumberland County Council £750 per year to bus a learner to their nearest place of education.

 Northumberland County Council has offered surplus places on school buses to parents at £600 per year a loss of £150 per learner per year.

 Payments can be made by Direct Debit.

 The decision of the Policy Board on post 16 transport is final and Council cannot change that decision.

 £900,000 has been dedicated to assist those who have special needs or can’t afford to travel to their nearest educational establishment. Link to Policy:
http://www.northumberland.gov.uk/default.aspx?page=457

Monday, March 24, 2014

Using its wholly owned Development Company ARCH, Northumberland County Council has begun a new development in Seaton Delaval to widen its housing portfolio.

COUNCIL DEVELOPING NEW MARKET HOMES Using its wholly owned Development Company ARCH, Northumberland County Council has begun a new development in Seaton Delaval to widen its housing portfolio. 28 New Homes are being built on the site of the former Council Offices to be let on a private basis through ARCH housing and will be ready from October 2014. Since Labour took over the administration of Northumberland County Council in May 2013 they have embarked on the creation of a quality mixed housing market place to expand the opportunity for people to get a sound roof over their heads. They have almost 100 new Council Homes ready to let with more in the construction phase and a good range of sites through planning and in the pipeline, the Council are also working with several housing associations to develop additional social housing to satisfy need and have had a good look at the private let market. Councillor Allan Hepple, Policy Board member for Housing and Regeneration said "In the private let market field we have some very good landlords who manage their housing stock very well but we have encountered problems with a number of absentee landlords and a lack of investment by some landlords in the buy to rent sector. We have embarked on the formation of a 'Quill' a Quality Landlord List to promote good practice among landlords, we have begun promoting those landlords letting's through our arms length choice based lettings scheme 'Northumberland Homefinder'" Councillor Gordon Webb, Chairperson of the Housing Working Group said" I'm pleased the Council's site at Seaton Delaval has begun as there is a prime need for quality rented accommodation in that area. The Quill will lead on to us Licensing landlords in areas where problems of low quality and low investment is affecting or running down communities. Those landlords who are already members of the scheme don't need to worry as they have attained the status Council requires to offer good homes to tenants. Those in need of a home should register with Northumberland Homefinder through Northumberland County Councils website using the housing link or visit one of our One Stop Shops"

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Let me begin by thanking you for all your efforts and hard work over the last year. As you will be aware, Northumberland Labour Group will shortly set its first budget proposals before council.

Dear Colleagues, Let me begin by thanking you for all your efforts and hard work over the last year. As you will be aware, Northumberland Labour Group will shortly set its first budget proposals before council. These proposals have been developed in the context of a £130M Coalition Government revenue cut over the next four years, a 30% reduction in our budget. To say cuts of this magnitude won't affect service delivery or local businesses and communities would be ridiculous, but Labour Group members in Northumberland have decided to use our first budget to protect as many front line jobs as possible in order that we safeguard the local economies we serve. Although the background to our first budget is one of bleak austerity, we have agreed to challenge the way we provide services and address future changes sitting just on the horizon such as those required through the Coalition Governments 'Care Bill' shortly to become the 'Care Act'. We want to ensure that we plan for more than just the short term, and to develop a genuine long term strategy for our services. Since we were elected in May we have begun to change the way the Council thinks of itself and have begun our move from departments towards integrated workstreams through changes at the top of our organisation. We are working with your Trade Unions on all issues and are about to begin a return to town centres from a centralised County Hall system that has failed the County over the last five years. This will revitalise our ability to support Northumberland’s towns and their local businesses. Those of you who have worked there will know just as well as me that County Hall as a building requires a fortune spent on it just to keep it up to the most basic modern workplace standards. The current revenue position of the Council does not allow us to service the kind of debt we would take on to do that work, so much cheaper options will be sought to re-house our workstream teams. Our commitment to attack the Housing Crisis is still strong with hundreds of new Council houses in either the planning, building or about to be let stage. Our consultation on the Local Development Framework that will protect 96% of our green belt for the next 20 years is going well and is being accepted by all but the most negative commentators. Streetscene services are working ever more closely with Town, Community and Parish Councils to deliver the services local people want the most on the ground and raise our standards to the pre 2009 level. We could not address these challenges without your support. There are some disappointments that we will have to tackle without having cash available. We have been told we must improve our education system without the benefit of being able to drive through a sponsored structural change for staff, parents and children to work towards. We have soldiers and their families rebasing to Albemarle barracks without the benefit of any additional MoD assistance to aid that resettlement. The pressure on school places and services in such a rural area will be immense and the much vaunted Community Covenant scheme can't be accessed by Local Authorities to aid the situation. Northumberland is the most sparsely populated county in England yet the Government’s sparsity offer is to invest in rural services today in order that we cut them next year. It’s much more difficult and costly to deliver services in very sparsely populated rural areas, as many of you who live and work here will know. To be faced with the choice of removing or cutting them is evidence that London based ministers have lost touch with societies such as ours. I want to be able to promise you, as our workforce, that we will work with you to enable all of us to address these challenges. Can I add one final request to you all? If you’ve had an invitation to take part in our Employee Survey, and you haven’t yet done so, please take fifteen minutes out of your day to do so. We value your opinions, and we know that we can’t take on the challenges we face without your support and engagement, which is why we want to address any issues that arise from the survey. Let me close by wishing you a Happy New Year, with my hope that we can all work together to meet the challenges we face, Regards Cllr Grant Davey