There have been a lot of worried people contacting me about a supposed threat to Freedom Pass funding in London.
First of all I’d like to assure you in no uncertain terms that the Freedom Pass is not under threat. Anyone who says otherwise is being deliberately misleading. I am afraid reckless electioneering has already begun and many vulnerable residents are being scared as a consequence.
It may help if I explain the situation in more detail:
Since 1999, London Boroughs have been obliged to offer free travel in London for older residents thanks to the GLA Act 1999. This is why the Freedom Pass began in the first place. This Act only applied to London and only entitled London residents to free travel. However, in April 2008 “All England Bus Travel” was introduced, entitling all residents (above the age of 60, or disabled) of England to a free annual bus pass giving free off-peak travel on local buses anywhere in England. This meant that any English resident (rather than just London residents) could travel on London buses for free.
Of course, the introduction of “All England Bus Travel” meant increases in costs for Local Authorities where they have had to subsidise additional free bus travel. A Special Grant was set up solely to help local authorities meet these costs. This funding is entirely separate from Freedom Pass funding, as the Freedom Pass is only available to London residents.
Since London had offered free transport to older residents since 1999, the only increase in costs they faced was the cost of non-Londoners traveling on London buses for free.
It is now clear there have been far fewer extra costs for non-Londoners traveling on London buses trips than anticipated. As a result, the total Special Grant allocated for London for the first two years has been approximately £100 million more than the “All England Bus Travel” scheme has cost London. As a result, some London Boroughs have actually made a profit on the Special Grant. None of the Councils refunded this windfall at the time, and they are not being asked to do so now.
In the next financial year the Government proposes to give London a Special Grant of approximately £30 million. You may be interested to know that between 2008-09 “All England Bus Travel” cost London between £4.1 million and £5.1 million and cost £6.7 million between 2009-2010. So even if the cost of the new concessions double between 2010-2011 (which is very unlikely), London would still have a £10 million surplus!
I would like to repeat that cutting London’s Special Grant payment is completely separate from the funding of the Freedom Pass and thus has no impact on the provision or funding of the Freedom Pass. Again, I am committed to maintaining the Freedom Pass in London and free bus travel for older people across England and would oppose any attempts to see them removed.
Another scare story some Councils in London are spreading is that they will have to cut services or increase Council Tax as a result of the above. Once again, there is no reason for this to occur. This is a smokescreen for the Councils not managing their budgets prudently. There is no justification for cuts in services or Council Tax increases.
I hope this clears things up. As always, if you have any further questions, please get in touch.