20/01/2012

Companion passes and 24 hour concessions for the blind return in Norfolk

Norfolk County Council have voted to add 24 hour bus passes for the county's blind and visually impaired community, and companion passes for eligible disabled people, to Norfolk's concessionary travel scheme.

The full Council backed an amendment put forward by Derrick Murphy, Leader of the Council, seconded by Graham Plant,Cabinet member for planning and transportation, that blind and visually impaired pass holders should be able to use their passes at any time, and that companion passes should be available for all disabled people who need the assistance of a companion when travelling.

Derrick Murphy, Leader of the Council, said: "We have listened carefully to all the arguments put forward, including representations from the Norfolk and Norwich Association of the Blind and the Royal National Institute for the Blind and members of our Cabinet Scrutiny Committee. It is clear to us that blind and visually impaired concessionary travel pass holders have been especially disadvantaged by the loss of these discretionary enhancements and experience more disadvantages than other groups because of inequalities in benefit provision and social care eligibility.

"Few blind people can claim the higher rate mobility component of the Disability Living allowance, which is worth an extra £30 a week. This is a significant amount to people who are often on low incomes and who face the additional costs of being disabled. Blind and visually impaired people often have the same or greater need for support with travel.

"What's more, many blind and visually impaired people cannot claim support with transport through a Personal Budget. Having considered these special factors, I am convinced that, as a listening and caring council that is trying to help as many people as possible with our limited resources, restoring the 24 hour pass and reintroducing companion passes is the right thing to do."

The restoration of these discretionary enhancements to Norfolk's concessionary travel scheme is subject to formal confirmation of Norfolk County Council's budget on 13 February. They will then come into effect in April at the start of the new financial year.

These discretionary enhancements of the statutory concessionary travel scheme were withdrawn last year (2011) because of the £4.5m shortfall in Government funding. Norfolk County Council has won strong support for a campaign for more realistic Government funding for the scheme.

Ian Mackie, Deputy Leader and Cabinet member for finance and performance said "Many thousands of residents have signed our Fair Fares petition. The decision to scale back the concessionary travel scheme close to the legal minimum was forced upon Norfolk County Council by the funding shortfall of some £4.5m this year.

"We have had backing right across the country for our campaign for a more realistic level of Government support for their scheme. The size of the shortfall in our funding has removed most of our discretion in choosing how we can deliver concessionary bus fares and at the same time maintain as many rural bus routes as possible. However, given our improved financial position next year through tight management and our additional funding for our Council Tax freeze, we are confident that we can restore these important discretionary elements of the concessionary travel scheme.