Headlines: April 7th, 2009

A shortage of funding for the national free bus pass scheme for older people and some disabled passengers is putting local authority jobs and services at risk, according to the Local Government Association, which has revealed that more than ten councils are facing a shortfall of more than a million pounds.

The survey, carried out a year after the entitlement to free local travel was expanded by the Government, brought responses from 50 councils and shows a shortfall of between 20 and 30 million pounds. The LGA says for some councils, including those where the shortfall is less than a million pounds, the scheme is putting budgets under pressure and threatening other services. In Exeter, for example, the 1.3 million pound shortfall equates to a 30 per cent increase in council tax.

The LGA is calling on the Government to honour a promise that councils will be fully funded for the scheme. It had pledged full funding and an extra 212 million pounds for councils but the LGA says the way the funding is allocated means some councils, especially in popular tourist and shopping areas, face big shortfalls. Authorities reporting shortfalls of more than a million pounds include Brighton and Hove which is short of 1.8 million and Chesterfield and Nottingham, where the gap for each is 1.6 million.

David Sparks, who chairs the LGA’s Transport and Regeneration Board, said: “Free bus travel for pensioners was not supposed to cost the council tax payer a penny. It would be a tragedy if this scheme, which was introduced with the very best of intentions, resulted in councils having to slash other vital services or cut jobs because central government funding has been inadequate. The LGA is in ongoing discussions with ministers to find a solution.”