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Fight to save free bus pass in the Great Yarmouth Borough

PUBLISHED: 11:19 07 October 2011

Brandon Lewis.

Brandon Lewis.

Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2010

MORE than 20,000 people in Great Yarmouth have been left in limbo over the future of their concessionary bus passes following a £4.5m shortfall in government funding.

Rural bus services across Norfolk are under extreme pressure after the government failed to provide Norfolk County Council with enough money to pay for older and disabled people to a have a free off-peak bus pass.

The shortfall has led Great Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis to raise the issue at the House of Commons on Tuesday in a bid to secure a fairer deal for concessionary pass holders, the county council and bus service providers.

Meanwhile, councillors are also mounting a campaign to claim the necessary funds from the government to ensure people can continue to travel for free in the future.

Currently, more than 1,400 people have signed their names to the Norfolk County Council Fairs Fare petition, which has been backed by councillors at County Hall in Norwich.

The Yarmouth MP will be mounting his campaign against the funding gap when he visits Yarmouth bus station today to collect signatures with Graham Plant, the county council cabinet member for planning transportation, from 5pm to 6pm.

Writing on the Conservative Home website, Mr Lewis described the concessionary travel scheme as a Labour policy waiting to explode in the Tories face.

But the MP has maintained that it is right to keep the service, which is vital to lives of many pensioners, if ministers can create a fairer funding deal.

He wrote: “It is a successful and popular policy, which we rightly 
pledged to retain, as it makes a difference to so many pensioners’ lives. Yet, it is a policy that no government could have financially sustained.

“Labour’s stated intention was that the statutory provision of the scheme would not leave local authorities out of pocket. This was never realistic in the current economic climate, leaving council taxpayers to fund the shortfall or forcing councils to reduce non-statutory bus services.

“My own county council in Norfolk, face axing subsidised bus services in order to deal with a 38pc funding reduction, despite already finding an extra £1.5m from within their own budget.

“Norfolk County Council has worked hard to renegotiate a better deal with bus operators, driving down costs but this is not enough to bridge the funding gap.

“The concessionary pass risks becoming worthless if there are no bus routes on which to use them.

“More has to be done to ensure the on-going viability of the scheme and that 
means considering other options.”

The £4.5m shortfall is likely to affect upwards of 180,000 concessionary bus pass holders throughout Norfolk.

Inquiries had been made by councillors to see if passengers could make voluntary donation towards covering the funding gap, but were told the scheme can only continue as a free service.

People can sign the petition at a number of roadshows where the council’s plans to make £500,000 of savings in rural transport services will come under the spotlight.

First Buses are the major provider of bus services for people in the Great Yarmouth borough, with 22,000 people registering for concessionary passes in the borough this year.

The petition is also available online at www.norfolk.gov.uk.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Email:

ben.woods@archant.co.uk

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