Councils can no longer provide pensioners and disabled people with free off-peak bus travel local leaders have warned, effectively issuing ministers with an ultimatum ahead of the Autumn Statement.
The Local Government Association (LGA) said the Government should use the Autumn Statement this month to plug a ‘funding gap’ for the concessionary bus fares scheme, which gives pensioners and disabled people in England free off-peak travel on all local bus services across England.
Cllr Martin Tett, LGA transport spokesman said: ‘Years of underfunding of the scheme has forced councils to spend millions of pounds of taxpayers' money to subsidise the scheme. This is now impossible with councils having to make savings while struggling to protect vital services like adult social care, protecting children, filling potholes and collecting bins.
‘Unless the Government commits to fully funding concessionary fares, elderly and disabled people will be left stranded with a free bus pass in one hand but no local buses to travel on in the other.’
Councils are working with residents to find innovative solutions such as organising car-sharing schemes, dial-a-ride or community transport initiatives but Mr Tett said ‘routes and services can no longer be protected’.
The LGA also wants the £250m Bus Service Operators Grant to be devolved to councils to help target support to vital services. It pointed to official statistics, published last month, which showed that mileage on council-subsidised bus services outside London fell by 12.3%.
The Department for Transport said it could not speculate on what may or may not be included in the Autumn Statement.
A spokesperson said: ‘While decisions on funding for local bus routes are a matter for local authorities, we provide around £250m to support services every year, serving local communities up and down the country.’
The AA has seized on Devon CC’s call for volunteers to help fill potholes and in a call for increased spending on road maintenance.
AA president Edmund King told the Sun: ‘Drivers pay almost four times as much in tax as is spent on the roads so the Chancellor must give local authorities more money to plug the potholes.
‘Surely our taxes should be used for potholes rather than resorting to 18th century peasant practices.’