Battle lines drawn to save Freedom Passes
PUBLISHED: 16:23 06 January 2010 | UPDATED: 11:50 12 August 2010
THE government is facing a mass revolt over plans that could sound the death knell for free travel for pensioners. Bromley council is taking the lead with numerous London boroughs ready to fight savage and vicious cuts to the Freedom Pass budget to the
THE government is facing a mass revolt over plans that could sound the death knell for free travel for pensioners.
Bromley council is taking the lead with numerous London boroughs ready to fight "savage and vicious" cuts to the Freedom Pass budget to the tune of nearly £30 million through judicial review.
The decision by Transport Minister Sadiq Khan to almost half the Department for Transport's (DfT) cash provision for the scheme tears up a three-year deal already agreed with the councils in 2008 worth £58 million for 2010/2011.
A petition on the Prime Minister's Number 10 website, urging him to re-instate the agreement, had attracted nearly 500 signatures at the time of going to press.
It comes as all three main political parties launch their manifestos ahead of the general election, creating a potential bombshell for marginal Labour MPs.
Bromley council's portfolio holder for the environment and transport strategy Colin Smith said: "We are urging the government to re-think this last minute, vicious cut that is going to mean the end of the Freedom Pass.
"The council is determined to fight this. We are discussing with a number of peer boroughs, taking the government to judicial review in the hope of either getting the decision delayed or reversed.
"We want to provide a universal Freedom Pass to our well-deserving pensioners but this is put in jeopardy by these savage cuts.
"It is appalling that the three-year deal has been cut after two years. We can't understand why the government would want to penalise Londoners who are already paying more for their public transport."
The cuts will create an annual shortfall of £1.2 million, nearly 20 per cent of the council's outlay on the scheme.
The threatened cuts come as Transport for London (TfL) and rail companies increase travel fares in London by up to 12 per cent.
Bromley Age Concern director Maureen Falloon said: "The pass is seen as a lifeline to help people over 60 stay active.
"The scheme is highly-valued and goes a long way to addressing isolation among older people.
"It enables them to socialise and without the pass they wouldn't be able to do that.
"We've just had an increase in fares and if people will have to pay to travel around it will have a huge impact on their ability to do so.
"Anything that would jeopardise that is a big concern."
A DfT spokesperson said: "The only increase in costs London faced as result of the improved England-wide concession was for the cost of non-London residents now travelling free on the London bus network - which is what we have always committed to fund.
"The changes we are proposing build on the success of the national bus concession and will not in any way affect older or disabled bus users who use the scheme."
A final grant distribution is expected to be published early in the New Year.