by Julia on 23 March, 2008
I’ve been loathe to write anything about concessionary fares since the local Tories came up with their alternative budget which offered nothing genuine to the residents of Maidstone. Instead, they shocked me by coming up with a cruel political stunt, in my opinion, to do nothing more than win a view votes in May.
In the background I’ve continued to speak to Norman Bakers office about what can be done, spoken to (and kept updated) a number of those affected by the withdrawal of our voucher scheme, and finally have been investigating the possibilty of getting EU funding to continue to offer our exisiting scheme. In addition, I’ve now been a wheelchair user myself for a couple of weeks, so I now know first hand just how useless a bus pass is to some people.
Following all the terrible (and unfair) press we’ve been given locally, the decision was made to not mention the concessionary fare scheme and it’s implications on any of our Focus’s. The logic being that it would just continue to add fuel to the Tories fire. However, clearly people need to understand what’s going on, and so Fran Wilson (leader of Maidstone Borough Council) released this onto our website (www.maidstoneandthewealdlibdems.org.uk) and I think it’s worth repeating here:
Update from leader of Maidstone Council – Cllr Mrs Fran Wilson:
The new statutory national concessionary fares scheme, which will be introduced in April, is far more generous than the current Maidstone Borough Council scheme, in that it gives concessions on local buses anywhere in England for those aged 60 years or more, and for disabled and people with mobility problems of any age.
The catch is that the local authority has to pay for all journeys starting in the Borough, not only those of our own residents but also those of anyone who is eligible who live outside the Borough. If the journey starts in Maidstone we have to pay for it.
Our estimate is that this will cost council taxpayers in the region of 2 million pounds in the first year, rising year on year, from revenue budgets. Our existing scheme has cost 1.6 million this year and the government has given us grant of £444,000. Putting those two amounts together it means we will have an estimated shortfall of £500,000 at the end of the first year of the scheme. Central government has made it quite clear that they expect us to manage the financial risks ourselves. They are not saying we cannot run any add-ons but the inference is plain, if we can afford add-ons they will consider that we have already covered the base costs of their statutory scheme before putting in additional discretions ourselves and they will not consider us for a top-up grant. If we run this risk, our calculations prove correct and we have given government any reason to refuse us additional funding it will mean another 4% on council tax 2009/10 or commensurate savings made from other front-line services.
Having said that we think that in introducing this new national concessionary fares scheme the government has not thought through the implications for the most vulnerable and needy in our society – those disabled citizens who, for what ever reason cannot access a bus. Currently of the 761 disabled people who were in receipt of MBC travel tokens, 491 have already transferred to the national concessionary fares scheme leaving 270 who have not.
Contrary to what the Conservatives are saying, this administration is, and always was, seeking ways to assist those for whom the new scheme is unsuitable and for whom there is genuine need. But first we have to establish precisely what those reasons are. In some cases a bus service might not exist, in others the bus designated to the route is not wheelchair friendly and in a few cases, that even were a bus to be available the person could not use it. Solutions can only be found based on information. We have a meeting organised in the last week of March to discuss this with all the other agencies such as the Hospital Trusts, Social Services and the voluntary sector. But we want genuine solutions not half baked, ill thought through suggestions to garner votes.
Finally, Norman Baker will be debating the entire concessionary fare scheme and it’s implications at around 10pm, this Tuesday on the floor of the House of Commons. I’m not sure if this is something that can be viewed or not, but I’ll be trying to.
As I said to a friend recently – I can’t pin-point the exact reasons why, but the way this concessionary fare scheme has come into existence, has really gotten under my skin. I continue to maintain that it’s a good idea in principle, but the costs to each area have not been worked out properly and there has been no thought given to those that are unable to use a bus, or those that do not have a bus service in their local area.Leave a comment