LGA’s concessionary funding cuts warning
The Local Government Association (LGA) has warned that elderly and disabled people face losing vital bus services as Government funding cuts leave councils unable to pick up the bill for the national concessionary fares scheme. The LGA, which represents councils in England and Wales, is calling for the Government to use the Budget to fully fund the scheme to ease the pressure on stretched council budgets and protect bus services.
Government funding for the scheme has reduced by 39% during the life of this current Parliament, according to the LGA. It said this is despite the country’s ageing population increasing demand for buses, citing figures that a third of all bus journeys are being used by the 10m older and disabled people with concessionary bus passes. The Association claims councils are being forced to subsidise the scheme at the cost of other essential services. The LGA also highlighted that Councils also provide discretionary subsidised bus services, such as free peak travel, community transport services, reduced fares and school transport.
Chair of the LGA’s Economy and Transport Board, Cllr Peter Box, said, ‘The concessionary fares scheme provides a lifeline for our most vulnerable residents to go shopping, pick up medication, attend doctor’s appointments or socialise with friends. However, it is now under real threat. Years of underfunding of the scheme forces councils to spend millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to subsidise the scheme. This is now impossible with councils having to make savings while struggling to protect vital services like adult social care, protecting children, filling potholes and collecting bins. Councils know how important buses are for their communities and local economies and are desperate to protect them. Instead, many across the country are reluctantly taking difficult decisions to scale back services and review subsidised routes. The way the concessionary travel scheme is funded by Whitehall has long been unfit for purpose and has not kept up with growing demand and cost. Unless the Government commits to fully funding concessionary fares, elderly and disabled people will be left stranded with a free bus pass in one hand but no local buses to travel on in the other.’