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Dispute over bus concessions

PUBLISHED: 10:01 03 September 2009 | UPDATED: 14:54 03 July 2010

Norfolk council chiefs are facing a financial headache because a local bus firm has hit them with large bills to cover concessionary bus fares.

Bus company First has appealed against the amount of cash Norfolk's councils are paying out to cover the cost of carrying passengers who have bus passes.

Norfolk council chiefs are facing a financial headache because a local bus firm has hit them with large bills to cover concessionary bus fares.

Bus company First has appealed against the amount of cash Norfolk's councils are paying out to cover the cost of carrying passengers who have bus passes.

Bus bosses say the sum the councils are planning to pay is not enough and have launched an appeal to the Department of Transport, trying to get the county's councils to pay them £2m.

The threat of Norwich City Council having to pay out £800,000 comes at a particularly difficult time for the authority.

The council already needs to make £7.9m of cuts to prevent its finances from slipping into the red and is drawing up a cuts package to put before residents in the coming weeks.

But First has said it needed £800,000 from Norwich City Council alone, which adds further fuel to the authority's anger over the bill for concessionary fares.

City council bosses say the scheme has already left them £1.4m out of pocket before the latest dispute, while other councils, including neighbouring Broadland, pocket a surplus.

City councillor Brain Morrey, who sits on the highways agency committee, said: “It is crippling us… Every year First seem to appeal over the payments. £1.4m is a big deal for Norwich City Council, when you think of the things some of the money being paid out to First could be used for.”

The council has been lobbying ministers trying to get changes to the way the money for bus fares is distributed in Norfolk.

Amy Lyall, city council spokesman said talks were ongoing with the bus company.

She said: “We have offered them some money for the concessionary fares. They think they should have £2m Norfolk wide.”

But by law each local authority is required to reimburse bus companies for the number of people receiving concessionary fares.

The amount they have to pay is worked out by the using a pre-existing formula issued by the government.

The concessionary bus fares scheme offers discounted travel on local public transport for older and disabled people, those on limited incomes and those who have mobility difficulties.

On April 1, 2008 the local entitlement for free bus travel was extended to allow bus travel throughout England.

It means that whether using the bus locally, or when visiting other parts of the country, older and disabled people will be able to travel for free.

Another council being hit by the reimbursement payments is Great Yarmouth Borough Council.

Barry Coleman, leader of the council, said the amount they were being asked for from First was a quarter of a million over the budget they have for concessionary fares for this year alone.

He said: “It is a lot of money they are asking for, particularly at a time when things are so tight financially for everyone.”

Gussy Alamein, First spokesman, said: “We have an ongoing discussion with the city council regarding concessionary fare reimbursement.

“We want to ensure within the criteria, we are not better or worse off. We hope that the continuing discussions will negate the need for the appeal to continue.”

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