Councillors 'disappointed' at EMA scrapping

HARTLEPOOL councillors have spoken of their "disappointment" after an attempt to stop an allowance for struggling students from being axed failed.

Plans to scrap the controversial Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) are set to go ahead after a bid by Labour to prevent it being ditched was defeated in Parliament.

The allowance is a weekly payment of between 10 and 30 given to the poorest 16 to 18-year-olds, living in households earning under 30,800 a year, to help them stay in education.

But the Government announced the grant is to be withdrawn and it is has already been closed to new applicants.

Independent councillor Cath Hill, Hartlepool Borough Council's portfolio holder for children's services, said: "I think this will have a very serious effect on youngsters in Hartlepool.

"I have spoken to students at Hartlepool Sixth Form College and Hartlepool College of Further Education and they have told me how they use it to cover transport costs and pay for books and equipment.

"This could put people off going to college. While parents can maybe afford the odd 30 a week, they probably can't manage it every week."

Labour councillor Chris Simmons, who appeared in the Mail earlier this week after writing to Prime Minister David Cameron expressing his concerns, said he was disappointed but not surprised at the outcome.

Coun Simmons, leader of Hartlepool Labour Group, said: "I am not surprised that the vote was lost as it was always the government's intention to drive this through, but I am very disappointed.

"Everyone in Hartlepool is working very hard to raise standards in education and EMA was a great tool in helping more young people stay in education and gain qualifications which will help them achieve their ambitions. This decision will hamper that."

Labour's call for Education Secretary Michael Gove to rethink his controversial decision was defeated by 317 votes to 258.

Mr Gove said: "The point was made in research commissioned by the last government, not by us, that the current arrangements for Education Maintenance Allowance are poorly targeted.

"Some of those who need more support don't receive it, some of those who currently receive support are not those who should be receiving the amount that they do."