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Travel: Concessions

Volume 464: debated on Monday 15 October 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport (1) if she will make a statement on the progress of discussions with her counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on the prospects for mutual recognition of concessionary bus passes across the UK; (156237)

(2) whether any assessment has been made of the feasibility and cost of allowing people aged 60 and over, and eligible disabled people, to be provided with free travel on public transport around the UK; and if she will make a statement.

Concessionary travel is a devolved policy area and the devolved Administrations have their own arrangements in place.

From 1 April 2008, people aged 60 and over and eligible disabled people in England will be entitled to free off-peak local bus travel anywhere in England, not just within their local area as at present. This is provided for in the Concessionary Bus Travel Act 2007. The Government announced that up to £250 million of additional funding is to be made available each year for the national bus concession. This equates to £212 million for England after allocations to the devolved Administrations under the Barnett formula.

The Act also contains a power to allow, via future secondary legislation, for the possibility of mutual recognition of bus passes across the UK. The Department for Transport had initial discussions with the devolved Administrations last year about the proposal and all indicated support for inclusion of this power. However, it was also acknowledged that we would need to discuss it further and work together to resolve various technical and resource issues before mutual recognition could be pursued in practice.

At present, the Government's priority is successful implementation of the national concession in England from next April. These arrangements will see the largest number of people benefiting from concessionary travel and will also be the most expensive in the UK. Until we understand the impact of the national bus concession in England it is very difficult to cost the mutual recognition of passes across the UK. Consideration would also have to be given to the possible harmonisation of modes, timings and eligibility in England, with those in the rest of the UK where there are differing arrangements—all of which increase the potential cost of providing UK wide free travel.

Local authorities in England will continue to have the flexibility to offer more than the statutory concession to their residents, for example morning peak bus travel for disabled and/or older people. English local authorities neighbouring Scotland or Wales can also offer concessionary travel that crosses the border. Any such enhancements are discretionary and are based on an authority's own assessment of local need and their overall financial priorities.