Fury over OAP bus price rise threat

DON'T scrap our bus passes!That was the plea today from senior citizens in Ipswich as the new administration at the Civic Centre starts struggling with next year's budget.

DON'T scrap our bus passes!

That was the plea today from senior citizens in Ipswich as the new administration at the Civic Centre starts struggling with next year's budget.

The Tory/Liberal Democrat coalition which took over the borough last month today unveiled its first new policies since taking up the reins of power.

Central to this is a pledge to ensure council tax bills from the borough will go up by no more than the rate of inflation next April.

The new administration is looking at efficiency savings to cut back on the budget - but is also looking for some cuts in services.

And one possible target is the borough's concessionary bus scheme, which enables senior citizens who live in Ipswich to travel anywhere in the borough for a flat rate of 40p a journey.

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If this is scrapped, senior citizens would be eligible for a county council bus pass, giving them half-price travel on buses - most journeys in town would cost 55p.

Finance spokesman John Carnall made the council tax pledge as the new administration set out its first new policies.

He said he was working with officers to go through the council books in an attempt to identify savings.

He said: "The Audit Commission has said that the council does too much, it should prioritise its work more closely.

"Over the last 25 years the council has taken on more and more services - but it cannot let go of anything.

"As a result many of the council's main buildings are now in a desperate need of work. Look at Broomhill Pool - but also there are problems at Crown Pools, the Regent Theatre, and at the town's Crown car park."

Mr Carnall said the borough's scheme would come under the spotlight.

He added: "But I have to emphasise that no decision on this has yet been made."

However the mere suggestion that the concessionary scheme was under discussion went down very badly among users of the Age Concern tearoom under Ipswich Town Hall.

"I come in from Chantry most days, and it's already very expensive for pensioners," said Barbara Last.

"If I have to go the hospital that's two journeys and a return trip costs £1.60 - that's a lot of money for a pensioner."

She was doubtful whether scrapping the scheme would save much money: "Everyone will see a very small amount come off their council tax bills, but it will have a major effect on the poorest pensioners.

"Why do they always want to make the oldest people pay?" she said.

Barbara Lucas, of Knightsdale Road, felt Ipswich should follow the lead of other areas: "In London and in some other places elderly people get free travel. Why can't they do that here?" she asked.

Julia Stannard, who lives on the Greenwich estate, felt most elderly people had contributed enough to society to expect help with bus fares.

"It would be disgusting if they put them up again, they've already gone up many times over recent years.

"I worked from the age of 16 to 60 and I don't think it's too much to expect a little help in retirement," she said.

Her friend Gloria Pilbeam, of Chantry, feared that a big increase could make it difficult for her to visit the town.

"The buses are a lifeline - I can't believe it costs the council too much to help us out with the fares," she said.

Since the minority Labour administration fell on September 15, the new coalition administration has been finding its way around the corridors of power and formulating its policies.

During the run-up to the June election the Tories campaigned on a policy of cutting council tax bills and encouraging more business in the town.

But today was the first time they have joined their new Liberal Democrat colleagues to discuss any actual policies.

The new executive has been deep in discussions with senior council officials - but normal meetings have been cancelled while they get to grips with the nuts and bolts of power.

Do you think concessionary bus fares should be scrapped? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

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