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Warning over free bus pass funding

PUBLISHED: 17:00 13 October 2011

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OLDER and disabled people who rely on free bus passes fear they will be cut off from their communities if their passes are taken away.

Great Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis spoke to the House of Commons on Tuesday to implore transport minister Norman Baker to look at fairer distribution of funding across the country.

This follows a government funding shake-up which has left Norfolk County Council with a £4.5m shortfall, placing the independence of 20,000 registered pass holders in Great Yarmouth under threat.

Mr Lewis said the council should have enough money in its coffers 
to bridge the shortfall for one year, but if the government does not change the funding formula then free bus passes may have to be 
cut.

And pass holders at Yarmouth bus station have told The Great Yarmouth Mercury that they would be left isolated without their free bus passes.

Jude Craze, 67, of Fleggburgh, said: “My free bus pass is a godsend as 
we can’t get anywhere without it and most people feel the same.

“We don’t have a car and we wouldn’t mind paying 50p or £1 for a journey so long as we can keep our subsidised bus fares.”

Her husband Edward Craze, 72, pointed out: “There are no shops where we live.”

Vera Patterson, 84, of Gorleston, said: “If I didn’t have my free bus pass I’d have to rely more on other people. We used to have a car but I lost use 
of it when my husband died.”

And Bryan Hemsley, 75, of 
Gorleston, said: “I use my concessionary pass more than 10 times per week.

“If they take the funding away 
then a lot of people who use free passes wouldn’t be able to get out as much. From Great Yarmouth to Gorleston costs about £5 and I couldn’t afford that on a regular basis.”

Ray Kelf, 75 of Newtown, added: “I use my bus pass about eight times per week. It’s money to come into town and I would struggle to do my shopping without it. You rely on the buses.”

Norfolk’s concessionary pass holders have been taking the fight to the government with a Fair Fares petition.

And Yarmouth’s MP says the policy makers are listening.

“The transport minister acknowledged that there is an issue, and the biggest thing was getting him to admit that,” said Mr Lewis. “Step one was acknowledging it and step two is to get them to do something about it.”

He added there was a strong turnout on Tuesday with many rural MPs taking up the cause of pass holders.

More than 1,400 people have already signed the Fair Fares petition.

BACKGROUND:

NORFOLK free bus pass holders are petitioning government to bridge a £4.5m shortfall in funding.

The Fair Fares campaign, which is backed by County Hall, is urging policy makers to alter funding formulas to ensure fairness to rural areas. The lack of logic in the government’s current funding formula has been shown by the fact that while Norfolk had lost more than £4m, Suffolk had suffered a cut of little more that £1m and Essex only £680,000.

On Tuesday Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis addressed the House of Commons to garner support for the campaign. He said: “The sheer turnout showed how many of us feel strongly about this.”

As well as trying to ensure a fairer deal for Norfolk, Mr Lewis hopes to achieve greater logic in how free travel is delivered.

He gives the example of small Norfolk villages, with populations of around 100, where a bus attends twice a week to collect four people to take to a doctors appointment or to the shops.

In instances such as these it would be far cheaper and more environmentally friendly to commission a taxi, added Mr Lewis.

This flexibility cannot be achieved under current policy, and Mr Lewis is pressing for “true localism” where local authorities can respond to individual situations in the best way possible.

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