When local government was being generously supported by the last Labour Government, Councils could begin to think of beneficial schemes that went beyond their statutory duties.
Kent County Council in 2007 introduced a creative scheme for young people called the “Freedom Pass”. In a County where travel to school is often a challenge and where access to social and leisure activities depends on public transport this was a thoughtful way of helping 11-16 year olds. For a purchase price firstly of £50 and then of £100, families were able to buy a pass for free travel over a year.
Inevitably the 16-19 year olds, and their parents, soon asked “what about us” with implications that would severely stretch the Council’s finances. However, the political pressure was great, not least from articulate young people in the County Youth Council, and from district youth forums.
So, now Kent County Council is faced by an enormous dilemma and the proposed solution is a bit of a dog’s breakfast.
The County Council now lives in a different climate to 2007. The Government’s austerity policy is hitting local government more severely than other departments. The County Council is having to save over £240 million from its budget.
All areas of spending are up for critical review, especially those services that are not required by law.
So, what they are coming up with is a very partial benefit for both 11-16s and 16-19s Both age groups will pay £100 and be gifted with a smart card whose value will be limited to £350 for the 11-16s and £250 for 16-19 year olds. For many young people this will mean that the value of the Freedom card will only last a small part of the year. There are already protests growing.
This is just the beginning of the transformation of public life in Kent, which will see major reductions in services, contracting out to private companies and a lowering of public accountability.
It is the Government’s fiscal policy working its way through to real lives. It is seeing the country falling to a level of public sector finance not seen since the 1940s.