News Date: Wednesday 2nd January 2008
Tim meets Minister to discuss looming crisis on concessionary bus fares
A delegation of Conservative politicians who have been to see Local Government Minister John Healey about the looming financial crisis over the shortfall in the cost of rolling out the concessionary bus fare scheme for pensioners described the meeting as 'very constructive' and the Minister as 'sympathetic'.
Worthing and Adur MPs Tim Loughton and Peter Bottomley were joined by Chairman of Finance for Brighton & Hove Cllr Ann Norman; Adur Leader Cllr Neil Parkin; Worthing Deputy Leader Cllr Ann Barlow; together with Director of Finance for Brighton & Hove Catherine Vaughan and Chief Executive of Adur and Worthing Ian Lowrie.
The meeting, which lasted over an hour at the Department of Communities Local Government in Westminster, between Christmas and New Year with John Healey and his officials heard how Adur and Worthing faced a shortfall over at least ?830,000 when the new nationwide scheme comes into operation in April whilst the bill for the City is likely to run into millions and could cause redundancies to make up the shortfall.
Tim Loughton had also invited the 3 Labour MPs for Brighton & Hove to join the delegation to make the case for the Minister before the consultation period over the funding of the scheme ends imminently but only Brighton Kemptown MP Dave Lepper sent his apologies. All three councils back the scheme which is supposed to be financed in full by the Government but due to a well above average uptake by pensioners on the Sussex coastal strip and the relatively higher costs of travel council taxpayers have effectively been subsidising the scheme since it came in and that subsidy will rocket disproportionately when the local scheme goes nationwide in April.
The councillors put forward a constructive case for how the scheme could be fully funded and run successfully without impacting on the sustainability of other services or council tax rises. They also invited the minister's official to come down to Sussex to go over the books and see how this shortfall is having such a detrimental impact. John Healey was grateful for the opportunity to hear the problems first hand from the councillors and promised to take up the points raised by the delegation and include those points in the current consultation before the figures are finalised.
"This was a very helpful meeting with John Healey who was genuinely understanding and surprised by what we told him. This is a good Government initiative that we all want to see work but not at the expense of local services for all local residents or large increases in council tax for what is supposed to be a central Government funded scheme.
"I am optimistic that the Minister will revisit the rather complicated formula which has impacted so negatively on councils in our part of Sussex rather than penalise us for doing what we have been encouraged to do all along, that is get more people out of their cars and onto public transport."