KCC pleads poverty over bus scheme

Kentish Express Ashford & District - - School Report - By po­lit­i­cal edi­tor Paul Fran­cis

pfran­cis@thek­m­group.co.uk County coun­cil lead­ers say they can­not af­ford to ex­tend the hugely pop­u­lar Freedom Pass to young peo­ple up to the age of 18.

The pass, which has proved a big hit since it was in­tro­duced, is cur­rently only avail­able to school­child­ren aged 11 to 16.

Now the coun­cil is un­der pres­sure to ex­tend the scheme af­ter more than 15,000 peo­ple signed a pe­ti­tion call­ing for a change.

The pe­ti­tion – one of the largest pre­sented to the coun­cil – will trig­ger a de­bate by county coun­cil­lors to­day (Thurs­day) at a full coun­cil meet­ing, when the pe­ti­tion is handed in.

It was started by Lynne Miller, from Deal, who says it is un­fair that the coun­cil does not of­fer the same pass to six­th­form­ers and col­lege stu­dents.

Many par­ents and stu­dents are dis­mayed that the cost of a bus pass for those over 16 jumps from £100 to £520.

Al­though that is partly sub­sidised, it is four times more ex­pen­sive than the ex­ist­ing Freedom Pass.

Mrs Miller said it was a bur­den many fam­i­lies could not af­ford. She has a son about to go into the sixth form at a Sand­wich sec­ondary school and a daugh­ter al­ready in the sixth form at a Can­ter­bury school.

She said: “The cost of liv­ing is ris­ing all the time and it is un­fair on fam­i­lies strug­gling to meet costs.

“Ei­ther the govern­ment should give the coun­cil more money or the coun­cil should find the money it­self. It is un­fair and a big jump in costs once your chil­dren are over the age of 16.”

But Kent County Coun­cil’s Con­ser­va­tive leader, coun­cil­lor Paul Carter, said the money was not there to ex­tend the Freedom Pass.

He said: “We are a vic­tim of our own suc­cess to a de­gree and are al­ready the most gen­er­ous au­thor­ity in the coun­try so far as the scheme is con­cerned.

“I do have enor­mous sym­pa­thy with par­ents, but we have got less money, not more money.”

He said the coun­cil might con­sider a scheme that ex­tended the age range of the Freedom Pass, but it would have to in­volve a higher fee.

“We could do some re­search on the costs and charge ev­ery­body £250,’ he said. “My only reser­va­tion about that is that those who are over 16 can do ca­sual part-time jobs as a way of sup­port­ing those costs.”

What do you think? Write to Ken­tish Ex­press, 34-36 North Street, Ash­ford TN24 8JR, or email ken­tish­ex­press@ thek­m­group.co.uk

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