Confusion over bus pass promise

CONFUSION today still surrounds the funding for the government's latest promise that free bus passes will be available for all elderly and disabled people from April next year.

A SCHEME to provide free bus passes for the elderly and disabled could run into trouble if not enough Government funding is given.

Suffolk Coastal estimates it could cost £685,751 next year to provide passes for free travel across the county but it is anticipated only £491,923 will be available from a special government fund.

Cabinet member Stephen Burroughes said: “The government announced after its budget in March that all councils must provide free travel to elderly and disabled residents but it is not providing enough money to run the scheme and meet the full cost of its latest 'promise', and more worrying still it may only offer support for the first three years.

“This leaves a gap of about £200,000 which is about what this council was already spending on its half-price travel scheme, but only part of which was funded by the government.

“However, we will face real problems if the scheme proves more popular, or more difficult to administer, than we predict and what is meant to happen after 2009 when the Government is set to cut the money off is anyone's guess.

“We currently offer our half-price scheme which has provided value for money for our elderly and disabled residents and also for this council, and we welcome the opportunity to expand it to a completely free service but there should be adequate and on-going funding from the government.”

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Any resident aged 60 or over is eligible to apply for a council bus pass, as is anyone with a qualifying disability which includes being blind, partially sighted, impaired walking, a learning disability, or not permitted to drive on medical grounds.

Under its current scheme, Suffolk Coastal issued 10,438 passes last year, with just over a quarter of those eligible applying for one.

It is expected 13,000 people will be attracted by the new-style pass. If applications outrun resources, it could have a serious impact on the council's finances as each pass costs over £50.

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