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October 7, 2008 3:23 PM

A senior Newcastle Liberal Democrat has called upon Tyneside education chiefs to provide information on the extent of the crisis hitting payments of education maintenance allowances to 16 to 19 year old students.

Councillor Greg Stone, Parliamentary spokesman for Newcastle East, said that the president of the Association of Colleges has recently claimed that up to three quarters of eligible students are experiencing problems with their EMA payments of up to £30 a week - leaving many in financial difficulty.

The problem has been attributed to a major failure of the private company IT system set up to administer the scheme.

Students who qualify for these grants are typically on low incomes and are studying to improve their basic and vocational skills at FE colleges and other vocational training providers.

Councillor Stone, who is also the chair of the Newcastle Futures employability project, said: "I am deeply concerned at the incompetent way this scheme is being administered. I am hearing worrying reports that students are finding themselves unable to cover costs such as travelling to and from college. I understand that many students are considering whether or not they can afford to continue in education due to the problems with their EMA payments. This is not good news in a contracting jobs market at a time when we need an increasingly skilled workforce

"I intend to table questions to the next meeting of Newcastle City Council about the extent of this problem in the city, and will be writing to Newcastle College and the Learning and Skills Council to identify what steps are being taken to address the problem at local level.

"However, the ultimate responsibility for this shambolic state of affairs lies with the

Government, who have known about this problem for several months yet have failed to take decisive action to address this crisis.

"Labour are very fond of proclaiming this initiative as a flagship policy, but the disastrous way it is being implemented is nothing short of a disgrace."