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TRAVEL CONCESSIONS BILL MAKES PROGRESS DESPITE MPs' CONCERNS

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By LGCnet political correspondent Robert Hedley ...
By LGCnet political correspondent Robert Hedley

A Bill to equalise the entitlement to concessionary travel for men and women

at the age of 60 - by reducing the statutory qualifying age for men from 65 -

was given an unopposed second reading in the commons.

However, MPs from all parts of the house expressed concerns that if

sufficient funding was not forthcoming from government some existing

concessionary fares schemes might be reduced or withdrawn.

Legislation requiring local authorities to offer a minimum of 50% reductions

for elderly and disabled people came into force earlier this year,

benefitting 5.5 pensioners and 1.5 million disabled people in England and

wales. The Travel Concessions (Eligibility) Bill will enable a further one

million men aged between 60 and 64 to share the benefits of concessionary

travel.

Transport minister John Spellar said local authorities must give half-price or

better concessionary travel subject to the person obtaining a permit, which

must be given free of charge. They also had discretion to offer further

concessions on bus and other transport services, such as local trains,

metros, ferries or the London Underground, and they may also provide

concessionary ytravel outside their boundaries if they wished.

Shadow transport minister Eric Pickles said Conservatives who not oppose the

Bill, which has already passed its lords stages, but they had reservations

'founded on the law of unintended consequences'. They were worried the Bill

might adversley affect some existing discretionary schemes or that existing

beneficiaries of age-related scheme got a poorer deal.

The worst that could happen was that the scheme became boggeed down in

arguments about the formula. The Local Government Association believed the

DTLR might have underestimated the effects.

Provision of£54m - slightly more than the original estimate of£47m - was made for the cost of the schemes introduced earlier this year.

The DTLR estimated the additional requirement under the present Bill would

cost about£50m.

Mr Pickles said it was reasonable for the LGA to ask for transitional

measures to ease problems which some authorities might face. He said£15m was allocated to the London boroughs to cover the cost of

equalisation for the 'freedom pass'. Because of the way the grant system and

its mechanisms worked, they rceived only£11m, leaving the council

taxpayer to fill the gap.

Liberal Democrat spokesman Don Foster said the local government associations

believed the government's estimates of the likely additional cost of the

measure might be inadequate.

He said there was an opportunity to widen the categories of people who could

be helped through concessary fares schemes, such as young people in further

education, and encourage cross-boundary travel.

Mr Foster added: 'I recognise that the government, too, wish to make progress

in developing a national scheme, examining all the various schemes that

currently exist and finding more ways of establishing integration between

them'.

Hansard 5 Nov: Column 30-43

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