Kent must save Shepway from £1 million bus ticket
Originally published by Folkestone and Hythe Liberal Democrats
Kent County Councillor Tim Prater has written to County Cabinet Transport Spokesman Nick Chard asking Kent to take the responsibility for administering the National Bus pass scheme within Kent into County control.
The National bus pass scheme was introduced by the Government last year to extend the previous local pass scheme. This caused a big expansion of bus take-up by the over 60's in Kent, who can travel free on any bus after 9am. The additional costs of the scheme were meant to be met by the Government, but new figures from Shepway Council show that the total net costs (after subsidy) are expected to be over £1 million to Shepway Council in the years 2008/10.
In May 2008, a Kent County Council report from then Transport spokesman, Keith Ferrin, considered taking the responsibility for the scheme on a County wide basis, but suggested that most districts would be net winners from the new scheme when taking the new Government grants into account. It said that the total new grants to Kent in 2008/09 would be £4.5m and that it was "estimated that this will exceed the costs of running the scheme in this year. We estimate £3.8 million will be required and that all Kent districts, with the exception of Tunbridge Wells, will have surpluses for the additional payments made by Government."
In answer to questions from Tim Prater, Shepway Council have estimated that the average net cost of the scheme to Shepway in 2008/09 was £443,000 and expects it to reach £669,000 in 2009/10. This totals over £1 million in two years - up from around £400,000 for the preceding two years.
The Liberal Democrat Councillor for Folkestone West, Tim Prater, backs the bus pass scheme, but is asking the County to take the administration and costs of it under its control as the additional costs are having a massive impact on local district budgets.
Tim Prater said:
"The national bus pass scheme has really improved the mobility of the over-60s and chances to get out and about. However, the costs of the scheme are falling hard on Shepway, who simply cannot afford to continue this level of subsidy.
"Unless there is a significant increase in Government grant to Councils like Shepway who are facing massive extra costs under the scheme, then the only other option would seem to have a Kent wide scheme which would balance the costs amongst all the districts, equalising the winners and losers.
"It cannot be right that a scheme that was sold as fully government funded will have cost local Shepway tax payers well over a million pounds in two years. It's time for the County to step in and support local district councils which are otherwise going to have to cut other services. Kent needs to help Shepway and other councils - now."