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Free fares pose service threat

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Services to elderly people could face cuts to pay for the concessionary bus fares scheme, the Local Government Association has predicted.

t said a sample of councils in seaside resort, tourist and major retail areas would collectively be£15.2m out of pocket.

David Sparks (Lab), chair of the LGA regeneration and transport board, said: “Authorities along the coastline or in places popular with visitors could be forced to cut meals-on-wheels to pay for visiting pensioners’ free bus travel.”

The scheme will from April allow elderly or disabled people to travel free by bus throughout England, with councils compensating bus operators according to where journeys are made, not where the passenger lives.

According to the LGA, the worst shortfalls are Brighton & Hove City Council, at£1.79m, and Nottingham City Council at£1.65m. Many small councils face bills of up to£500,000 a substantial proportion of their spending.

The government has allocated£212m over three years to compensate councils for the scheme’s costs.
Ministers have refused an LGA request to set aside part of this as a contingency fund to help councils that have particular difficulties over the first year.

It has been impossible to calculate the scheme’s exact impact because no one yet knows how many people will take advantage of it.

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