Editor's comment

1st September 2006 at 01:00
Our survey into college transport - in conjunction with the Learning and Skills Network - raises a problem which will be all too familiar to lecturers in rural colleges as well as their students.

If you live in the countryside, the ability to travel is rapidly becoming a luxury to be enjoyed only by the affluent.

It may not be immediately apparent from the back seat of a ministerial car, or the air-conditioned offices of quangoland, but our rural economy is being gently strangled by what a visitor from another planet could be forgiven for thinking is a government policy drive against the free movement of people.

The evidence is all around. From our almost non-existent rural bus network, to our unreliable and increasingly expensive trains, to the cost of petrol (for which we must pay the Treasury a breathtaking pound;3 in tax for every Pounds 1 worth of fuel we buy).

If you live in the countryside and your place of work or study is more than walking distance from your front door, you are, at best, a forgotten citizen whose needs have been de-prioritised, or, at worst, an evil polluter of the atmosphere who must be punished for going about your daily business by road.

As the survey shows, it is the less well-off who suffer first when the state washes its hands of the problem of how to get its citizens from A to B.

But it is the economy which will suffer second.

Teenagers from low-income households have been encouraged to stay in college by education maintenance allowances, only to find that the Department for Education and Skills expects them to dip into this benefit to pay for their travel to college.

The fear is that many will drop out of education at 16 - the last thing our economy needs.

As our story explains, local authorities are being blamed by colleges for reducing transport subsidies to colleges.

No doubt there are town hall officials who would point out that further education has had plenty of time, since it left local authority control in 1993, to see this problem coming.

There is little point, though, in buck-passing between colleges and local government. College transport is patchy around the country. The only connecting influence which can make a difference is ministers, who need to spend a little more time in that other England - the one that isn't (yet) covered in concrete.

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