10/11/2011

Fair Fares campaign gathers support but NCC warn of higher costs next year

The importance of Norfolk County Council's Fair Fares Concessionary Travel Scheme campaign is highlighted in a report to the Council's Cabinet that warns of higher costs next year (2012-13).

This year the Government allocation to Norfolk of £7.3m is £4.5m short of the actual cost of running a basic Concessionary Travel Scheme. The County Council and bus operators agreed to share some of that shortfall, but it has still placed a £3m burden on Council Tax payers and a strain on other services, including rural transport support.

A report to Cabinet, which meets at County Hall on Monday 14 November (10.30am), warns that more people joining the scheme and inflation will add £800,000 to costs next year - even more if bus operators cannot accept a cap on total reimbursement due to other funding pressures in the bus industry.

At least 12,000 people have already joined Norfolk County Council's Fair Fares campaign calling on the Government to fairly fund the concessionary bus scheme. Fair Fares has also been gathering momentum nationally, with Buckinghamshire County Council pledging wholehearted support for the Norfolk-led campaign.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles recently described the Concessionary Travel scheme as a complete 'dog's breakfast' amid fears that, because of the shortfall, councils could soon be providing bus passes - but fewer and fewer buses on which to travel.

Graham Plant, Cabinet member for Planning & Transportation, said: "We have had sympathetic noises from the Government, which is encouraging, and I am hopeful that we will see a fairer funding allocation for next year. But we haven't received it yet, and this report to Cabinet shows what the situation will be if there is no improvement in Government support.

In the end, any significant shortfall in funding puts other services, particularly rural public transport, under greater strain. "I have no doubt that our Fair Fares campaign has helped bring that message home to Ministers, and it is tremendous news that the number of petition signatures is around 12,000. I am delighted that other authorities, such as Buckinghamshire, are giving their full backing. I do feel that things are moving in our favour and that the Government will respond. "In the meantime, we have to let bus operators have our draft scheme for next year by the beginning of December, and until we get an improved settlement we have to plan for Government support to remain much the same as for this year."

People can sign the County Council petition at any County Council library or at either King's Lynn or Norwich bus stations. Alternatively, they can sign the e-petition by visiting www.norfolk.gov.uk