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Clause 51

Part of – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:45 pm on 17th March 2009.

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Photo of Sarah McCarthy-Fry Sarah McCarthy-Fry Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families 5:45 pm, 17th March 2009

The clause will give young people a new voice in the local transport arrangements for those of sixth-form age, and, by requiring local authorities to consult young people on the drawing up of their transport policy statements and ensuring that the statements can be amended in response to complaints, we will strengthen local accountability in the implementation of the current duty. The measures should ensure that local authorities are bound to give adequate consideration to the cost of transport and affordability when they develop their statement. Local authorities already consult young people and their parents on a range of children’s services, and we envisage that they will build on their existing good practice in consulting young people and their parents about transport provision.

Following the proposed transfer of responsibilities from the Learning and Skills Council, we intend that the Secretary of State issue guidance under section 509AB(5) of the Education Act 1996. We will use the guidance to set out our expectations of local authorities when consulting young people and examples of good practice. Given that we will put that in the guidance, we do not feel it necessary to include amendment 125, so, in the light of that assurance, we ask the hon. Lady to withdraw it.

On new clause 2, we share the hon. Lady’s view that access to affordable transport is integral to helping young people access education and training. Current  legislation strikes a balance between protecting the interests of young people everywhere and giving local authorities the flexibility to direct resources to local priorities. I am sure that she will agree that it is right that local authorities should have the discretion to determine how to target their funding to meet local needs. The increase in total Government grant for local services since 1997 will stand at 45 per cent. in real terms by 2010-11. Drawing on that funding, the current duty already requires local authorities to take into account the cost of transport in preparing their transport policy statements, and that should ensure that transport is affordable for young people.

The hon. Lady spoke about colleges and their requirements. While colleges might wish to provide discretionary financial support for individual learners facing particular hardship, we do not expect them to fund transport provision routinely. With regard to young people aged 19 to 24 with learning difficulties, we are strengthening our learning difficulty assessment guidance to include an explicit reference to consider a young person’s wider needs, including transport. New section 508G in the Education Act 1996 will place a duty on local education authorities to make available in a transport policy statement information about the travel provision they have to put in place for young people aged 19 to 24.