MP's fight over bus fares wins support from Lords

February 9, 2009 10:24 AM

David HowarthCambridge MP David Howarth's fight to get a fair deal for the city from concessionary bus fares has found support from a leading member of the House of Lords.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market, who took part in the Transport Act 2000 which introduced concessionary fares, is demanding answers from the government over the unfair way in which it hands out grants to pay for the scheme.

She said she is still trying to understand why the government is saying it is handing out enough money and that it is being correctly distributed "when local authorities are reporting quite the reverse".

Referring to Mr Howarth's comments during a Commons' debate that concessionary fares are costing Cambridge City Council £1 million more than expected, she said: "It is not easy for local authorities that have been faced for some years with making year-on-year efficiency savings to find an extra £1 million.

"They cannot put up the council tax because there are capping regimes and political issues around those, so their alternative is to cut spending.

"The nub of the problem is that local authorities are paying for the bus journeys not of their residents but of the people who are getting on buses in their district. Popular destinations such as Cambridge are paying for all the return journeys of anyone who visits their area."

And she added that the margins of bus operators are "being squeezed by local authorities that are trying to negotiate the contracts down, so there is a vicious spiral of decline.

"The result is we may have a very successful concessionary pass scheme but fewer buses on which to use them."

Now Mr Howarth has written to Transport Minister, Lord Adonis, calling for a complete review of the way the concessionary bus fares scheme is financed.

He said: "Although I totally support the scheme in principle, the government must accept that the way it is funded is totally flawed.

"Ministers cannot allow this situation to continue. Cambridge City Council is struggling to meet its commitment to these fares without any way of being able to accurately predict the demand or the cost.

"The government is living in a fantasy world believing that the funding for this scheme is correctly distributed. Some local authorities are banking funds surplus to requirements while others face cutting services just to make ends meet.

"This is a ridiculous state of affairs which cannot be allowed to continue and the government must sort this out as a matter of urgency."

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