14 March 2012: We have written a joint letter with the Association of Transport Coordinating Officers to George Osborne calling for urgent action to fill the £60 million funding hole in the bus pass scheme. The money has to come from somewhere, and at the moment it’s being drained from budgets that are supposed to prop up lifeline buses.
Local authorities in shire counties have warned that as a result of a £60 million shortfall they can only meet the cost of the scheme by reducing their budgets for subsidising socially necessary buses. As the national budget is set this spring we are urging the Government to back up its high profile promise to protect the bus bass with the funding to match.
There is more than a smattering of tragic irony here; a brilliant scheme that has brought mobility and self-sufficiency to millions of older and disabled people may actually be so badly governed it ends up endangering those buses most relied on by the very same groups of people it is supposed to help.
The vital role that rural buses play, linking people to shops, jobs, services, friends and family should not be underestimated. If you take out buses, you stop people being self-sufficient, and only end up paying out more in things like social security and care home costs down the line.
The list of local authorities most badly hit makes particularly worrying reading because many of these rural counties have already seen some of the deepest bus cuts in the country as a result of the separate cuts to council funding. Our research shows that in English shire counties one in five subsidised bus services have already been cut back, and this amounts to over 1,000 buses being reduced or withdrawn. However, the total savings to local authorities achieved by these cuts amounted to a comparatively modest £36 million. This shows that a hole of £60 million could cause real damage.
Earlier this month we joined Norfolk and Devon County Councils as they delivered a petition of 23,500 signatures to number 10 Downing Street, calling for Government to wake up to this problem. Rural bus services in many rural parts of the country are in crisis, and the Government must act now or find that a scheme set up to support the mobility of elderly and disabled people has precisely the opposite effect.