Owen Winter, a Member of UK Youth Parliament from Wadebridge, has hit out at Cornwall Council’s recent decision to axe bus and rail basses for post-16 students. He called the cuts ‘foolish and shortsighted’ and highlighted the effect they might have on students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“This decision will be yet another stumbling block for the poorest and most isolated Cornish young people. Take Camelford, or the villages surrounding it. This area is in the bottom 20% for deprivation in the country. Camelford Sixth Form closed in 2009 so post-16 students have no choice but to travel as far as Wadebridge, Bodmin, Bude or further, for many qualifications. Transport subsidy cuts will hit these students and their families hard.” he said.
Cornwall is classed by the government as ‘mainly rural’ with over 80% of residents living in rural areas. It is one of the poorest areas in the UK with average wages standing at £14,300, compared with a national average of £23,300.
Winter, a student at Truro College, also raised concerns about the long term impact on Cornwall’s economy, especially in the wake of the Brexit vote.
“Cornwall receives millions of pounds every year from the European Union but, with the result of the referendum last year, the future of this investment is far from secure. The Government has been unclear on whether it will replace the funding, so we have to look to the private sector. To attract high quality investment in areas such as green energy and creative industries, we need a competitive and well-educated workforce. The move to restrict access to post-16 education will inevitably hurt our economy in the long run.”
Winter said he recognises that the Council’s budget is under strain due to central government austerity and that the Department for Education could not sidestep its share of the blame for the cuts.
“In 2015, the Government raised the participation age for education to 18. My year group was the first to experience this. With no additional funding made available to support 16-18 year olds, it felt like we were marching off the edge of a cliff. We were forced to make serious decisions about our future whilst also considering the potential costs of transport. Staying in education after the age of sixteen is compulsory, but we are expected to cough up for it.”
“I find it deeply insulting that Theresa May talks about social mobility and meritocracy whilst offering no support to students who are working hard to get an education.”