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Concessionary Bus Travel

Volume 468: debated on Tuesday 4 December 2007

5. What steps her Department is taking to raise awareness of the entitlement to concessionary bus travel. (170388)

The Department for Transport will deliver a national publicity campaign, which will start in the new year. We will also provide travel concession authorities with a comprehensive communications toolkit, containing resources that can be adapted for local needs and including advertising material.

I am grateful for that response, especially as a member of the Public Bill Committee that aimed to ensure that the concessionary bus fare scheme would operate nationwide. In Crawley a good Labour council has provided the constituency with a concessionary scheme for decades, but will now be able to offer something far beyond the boundary. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important for people to know that that will be happening very soon?

I entirely agree. We must ensure that the message reaches everyone who is entitled to use the new passes. I congratulate my hon. Friend’s local authority on the service that it has delivered until now, and I am sure that the whole House looks forward to the start of the nationwide scheme next year.

Is the Minister aware of the problem of who will pay for concessionary fares in tourist areas such as that governed by Harrogate borough council, part of which falls within Vale of York? The council will potentially be left with a shortfall of £1 million. Where is it supposed to find that money, which corresponds to a 10 per cent. increase in council tax?

We are aware that a number of local authorities are saying that they cannot afford the scheme. However, the Department’s calculations of the amounts that each local authority will receive have been generous, based on assumptions of take-up set against experience of the take-up of existing local schemes elsewhere. Additionally, the Department will supply £212 million next year, on top of the Government grants for the scheme locally, to make sure that all travel concession authorities will be able to ensure that the scheme is available to its residents.

Will my hon. Friend ensure that local newspapers, such as the Chorley Guardian, the Lancashire Evening Post and the Chorley Citizen, carry the adverts, because as older people read local newspapers, that will be a good way of clearly getting across the message that this Government have provided the concessionary travel?

I am sure that my hon. Friend’s local newspapers will carry his mention of their titles in their copy next week, and that will assist in getting the message across. We have built into the grants to local authorities an element of local communications funding, and it is to be hoped that the local travel authorities will be able to take advantage of that.

But as my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) pointed out, the Government’s concessionary scheme does have some malign consequences. In Bromsgrove, for example, the local council has offered free parking to disabled and pensioner citizens, but that has now been put in jeopardy by the cost of the new national concessionary scheme. What do the Government think is better: local determination of transport priorities or their own national schemes?

Travel concession authorities can appeal in a number of ways if they are unhappy with the way in which the scheme is likely to be introduced in their area. There has always been discretion for travel concession authorities to offer a scheme different from the national one. What we are introducing next year, with hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money, is a de minimis scheme that will apply right across the country for all pensioners and for most disabled people. This is a huge step forward for people right across the UK.