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That the following provisions shall apply to the Education and Skills Bill:
1. The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.
2. Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on 28th February 2008.
3. The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.
4. Proceedings on consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which those proceedings are commenced.
5. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.
6. Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on consideration and Third Reading.
7. Any other proceedings on the Bill (including any proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments or on any further messages from the Lords) may be programmed. [Steve McCabe.]
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Education and Skills Bill, it is expedient to authorise
(1) the payment out of money provided by Parliament of
(a) any expenditure incurred by virtue of the Act by the Secretary of State or the Office for Standards in Education, Childrens Services and Skills, and
(b) any increase attributable to the Act in the sums which by virtue of any other Act are payable out of money so provided, and
(2) the payment of sums into the Consolidated Fund. [Steve McCabe.]
That Ian Pearson be discharged from the Environmental Audit Committee and Mr Phil Woolas be added. [Rosemary McKenna, on behalf of the Committee of Selection.]
Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (LD): I have pleasure in presenting a petition signed by more than 4,000 local residents in Harrogate who are dismayed and angered that their local sub-post offices in High Harrogate, Leeds road in Harrogate and Stockwell in Knaresborough are faced with closure when they are well used by a wide section of the local community and provide vital services, especially to the elderly and less mobile.
The Petition of residents, employees in and visitors to the Borough of Harrogate and Knaresborough and all those seriously concerned about the decision of the Post Office to review the future of High Harrogate Sub Post Office - 19 Devonshire Place, Harrogate; Leeds Road Sub Post Office - 11 Leeds Road, Harrogate; and Stockwell Sub Post Office - 2 Chain Lane, Knaresborough.,
Declares the importance of these Sub Post Offices to thousands of people living, working in and visiting Harrogate and Knaresborough and surrounding areas, including the more elderly and disabled; and reminds Members of Parliament of the number of closures of Local Sub Post Offices in the Harrogate and Knaresborough area over recent years.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform to make clear to the Post Office the importance of these Offices continuing as a Sub Post Office and the benefit of withdrawing as soon as possible any proposals which put at risk any of the existing services provided from this Office.
And the Petitioners remain, etc.
Mr. Colin Breed (South-East Cornwall) (LD): I am delighted to have secured this debate this evening on transport for teenage learners in Cornwall, especially as it immediately follows the Second Reading of the Education and Skills Bill. The main problem for many students in Cornwall is that while there will, I hope, be many new opportunities, their ability to access them will be severely limited by the lack of transport. Living in rural areas with poor transport links makes it difficult for many young people to travel to schools and colleges. That will lead to rural learners being severely disadvantaged in comparison with those who enjoyif that is the wordliving in urban areas. That difference is one of the principal problems for young people in Cornwall if they are to have any chance of enjoying the new opportunities in the Bill.
In July 2007, the rural local authorities transport group undertook a case studyhelpfully, it was of Cornwall. It discovered, without too much effort, that Cornwall is a long peninsula surrounded by water and that most transport links run along the spine of the county. The weather is not always as good as it seems in the summer, and we have rain, wind and snow, which make waiting around for public transport more difficult.
Journey times vary enormously, especially from the far east, west and north of the county. Some journeys involve multiple use of buses, and it can take some students as much as two hours at the beginning of the day and two hours at the end of the day. The other problems of low wages and high house prices, not to mention the general cost of living in Cornwall, have made the cost of transport a heavy burden for many people. Indeed, some families simply cannot afford the cost of local buses at current prices.
The council transport budget is now some £11 million, of which £1.2 million is for post-16 requirements. Only £400,000 of that is recouped through charges. The figure is low, but it represents about as much as can be recouped. The local authority offers a bus pass at £225 a year. That might well be below the national average but, for Cornwall, it is extremely expensive. It does not cover the true cost even of providing the transport, which is estimated at nearly £800. The whole system is being squeezed to keep costs downthe cheapest buses, the longest routes and little that is direct and point to point.
Train travel is not helpful either. In my constituency, students who want to access the good educational facilities in Truro can get on a train at Lostwithiel in the morning to get there at a reasonable time but, of course, the train coming back does not stop at Lostwithiel and goes on to Bodmin. It goes past Lostwithiel, where they would like to get off, down to Bodmin where they have to wait for three quarters of an hour to get a train back.
The arrangements do not appear to be sustainable. They will certainly not be sustainable if the provisions in the Education and Skills Bill come into beingcertainly not with existing budgets and charges. An
increasing number of students are taking transport that has been arranged by colleges, and without those services the council could not retain current levels of support and contributions. The system is beginning to creakit has been creaking for some whilebut we want to enable our teenage students in Cornwall to access the educational facilities that are provided for them.
As I said, the Government are increasingly allowing the burden of transport delivery to fall on local authorities and colleges. That might be all right in the short term, but the approach has not been a short-term one and the problem is getting worse. Additional funding is needed because, without that, the moneys that are spent on transport will be taken from the education budget. Education will therefore be the loser in order to provide for the additional transport costs.
The main source of Government funding used to be the learner support funds, but they have now been replaced, by and large, by the education maintenance allowance, which is welcome. However, where are the funds for transport subsidies? Is it fair that our students in Cornwallthe rural learnershave to spend a substantial part of their education maintenance allowance getting to and from school or college? In London, students get their transport free, and can spend their EMA on whatever they like.
Waiting for buses is often seen as an act of faith, and we need to redress that so that bus transport is seen as the quick and easy alternative to the car. Far too many times, students wait around only to find that the service has been cancelled. Many learners use the council travel scheme merely as a stepping stone to buying a car. The problem is not so much the fact that buying a car can be very expensive, with all the problems that running it can cause. If the 25,000 16 to 19-year-olds in Cornish colleges were thinking of using their own vehicles, there would be not only major environmental implications but increased accident rates. Inexperienced 17 and 18-year-olds who learned to drive at the first opportunity would be on very narrow roads, sometimes in slippery conditions. I am sure that I do not have to paint any more of a picture.
The whole bus pricing structure needs overhauling. How can we have free travel for young people in London, whereas in Cornwall they sometimes have to pay as much as £5 or £6 a day? Our local bus companies simply do not compete with each other. They stick to their own routes and have no incentive to buy better buses. They need to get more buses on the road to increase that flexibility, reliability and comfort.
The report on the case study made some good recommendations, and not merely for Cornwall. In fact, the recommendations were for all rural areas. I was pleased to note that the Ministers area was included, too, as he no doubt knows.
There is a delightful picture on the front of a young lady waiting for a bus. It is interesting to note the reports conclusion for what is needed in Dorset. It states that more affordable services in rural areas, Government understanding of the shire county transport position and recognition of the differential
expense in supporting transport in rural and urban areas are needed there. That could equally apply to Cornwall.
Providing free transport for all young people in learning up to the age of 19...
If free fares are not possible, concessionary fares should be considered...
Government should support the development of the necessary infrastructure using new technology to support cost effective management of free or concessionary transport.
Agree responsibilities for planning and funding home to school transport in rural areas, particularly journeys necessary to access different courses under the proposed 14-19 Diploma arrangements.
Review and rationalise the existing funding levels and streams that flow from central government, to the authorities, providers and students in the light of the numbers and journeys required.
National government should recognise the time that it takes to plan and contract for new transport services.
Take proper account of the need for regional and sub regional coordination of provision of services and support...
Develop and implement national standards supported by findings and legislation to ensure cost effective coverage, flexibility, equity and access to young people in rural and urban areas...
Set up, fund and evaluate appropriate 14-19 and concessionary fare pilots in rural areas.
Give the rural authorities a real say on the way that responsibility for funding 16-19 education and training it manages when it passes from the Learning and Skills Council to local authorities in 2010.
We are a long way from having a level playing field of accessible opportunities. Young people living in rural areas do not enjoy the same access to learning and other services that their peers have in the cities and urban conurbations. The ideal would be to provide them all with free transport services similar to those provided for young people in London. Failing this we need to provide a substantial improvement in local transport services and support in rural areas, if we are to reduce the numbers of young people not in education, employment or training. If we do nothing, rural transport support and services will continue to decline and the costs of journeys for young people and their
families will increase. At some point young people and their families will no longer be able to access services or to afford the costs associated with travel to learning.
That paints a bleak picture. If we cannot tackle the problem, all the opportunities that we want young people to have through the Education and Skills Bill, which has just received a Second Reading, will be denied to thousands of people living in rural areas, especially Cornwall.
The Minister for Schools and Learners (Jim Knight): I congratulate the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Breed) on securing the debate. I have enjoyed debating matters rural with him in my previous capacity as a Minister in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. As he knows, I also represent a rural constituency, so I, too, have been looking forward to the debate. I therefore take a keen interest in the needs and aspirations of those who live in rural communities, not least the young people whom I now have the pleasure of serving as Minister for Schools and Learners.
As the hon. Gentleman said, today we debated and gave a Second Reading to the Education and Skills Bill. Everything about that Bill demonstrates the Governments commitment to ensuring that all young people are given the maximum opportunity to succeed. Economic and social background should never be a barrier to achievement, and neither should geographical location. From the urban heart of our big cities to the fields and farms of our shire counties, all young people, regardless of where in England they live, should have an equal chance to take advantage of the learning options that are right for them. That might mean a diploma, an apprenticeship or more traditional, familiar qualifications.
Access to timely and affordable transport is of course crucial to helping young people access the range of current and future opportunities open to them. We are certainly alive to the challenges that rural areas will face, and I want to explain the considerable efforts that we are making to meet them. When we discuss teenage travel, we are generally referring to post-16 learners. The home-to-school arrangements for pre-16 travel are well understood and were improved in the Education and Inspections Act 2006. However, we know that post-16 learners, including those in Cornwall, are more likely to have to contribute to their travel costs, and it is not uncommon for young people who are affected by the issue to use their own car to get to lessons, if they are old enough.
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