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Volume 716: debated on Thursday 14 January 2010


Asked By

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport when he will publish the report of the consultation on local authority special grant funding in 2010–11 for the national bus concession in England.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as an elected member of a London borough council and—I may not be alone in this—as a holder of a Freedom Pass.

My Lords, the consultation on local authority special grant funding in 2010-11 closed on 30 December. My department is in the process of analysing the responses. I am mindful of the deadline for local authorities to finalise their budgets and I intend to announce final funding allocations very shortly.

My Lords, I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. I remind the House that the consultation is on altering the final year of a three-year national agreement. What justification is there for London boroughs receiving less grant to support the cost of providing concessionary bus fares for Londoners within Greater London but outside their borough of residence? Why are the Government not prepared fully to grant-fund these journeys in London, when they fully fund equivalent journeys elsewhere in England?

My Lords, the answer is simple and I can be brief: London has much more money than it needs to meet its obligations under the concessionary fares scheme. Indeed, the return of the noble Baroness’s own borough, Kensington and Chelsea, states that its spending on concessionary travel decreased by 7 per cent between 2007-08 and 2008-09. We are leaving London with half its gain in terms of the amount of money that it needs to meet its concessionary fares increase, so mindful are we of the need for Kensington and Chelsea and other London boroughs to be fairly dealt with.

Is the noble Lord aware that there is a problem with small, independent bus operators, particularly in rural areas, where they carry a higher than average percentage of concessionary passengers for longer journeys? For example, one company says that it is not being reimbursed for as many as one in five of its passengers.

My Lords, the principle is that operators should be no better and no worse off by carrying additional passengers as a result of the concessionary fares scheme. The evidence is that, overall, there was more than sufficient funding going into the system to meet the concessionary fares on offer. As for rural bus services, over and above the concessionary fares funding, the rural bus subsidy grant of £60 million for 2010-11 will support nearly 2,000 services and more than 38 million passenger journeys a year. So we are mindful of the need for further support for rural bus services over and above the support for concessionary fares.

My Lords, does my noble friend think that it makes sense that wealthy pensioners, such as some of the present company, perhaps, should also benefit from this government subsidy?

My Lords, I declare my Scottish bus pass. How often does the Secretary of State regret not having a system of funding concessionary bus fares similar to the one that we have in Scotland?

My Lords, I have no regrets about the operation of the concessionary fares policy, which has brought huge benefits to 11 million of the over-60s at the cost of more than £1 billion a year. We regard that as a very worthwhile investment in promoting mobility for those over 60.