District hits back at travel funding claim

PUBLISHED: 14:26 08 June 2006 | UPDATED: 11:47 04 May 2010

EAST Cambridgeshire s pensioners and the disabled could be denied free countywide bus travel after the Government was accused of getting its sums wrong. East Cambs District Council planning chief David Archer laid the blame squarely at the feet of Chancel

EAST Cambridgeshire's pensioners and the disabled could be denied free countywide bus travel after the Government was accused of getting its sums wrong.

East Cambs District Council planning chief David Archer laid the blame squarely at the feet of Chancellor Gordon Brown as councils struggle to find enough cash to expand free district-wide travel across all boundaries.

His outburst came as Cambridge City Council leader Councillor Ian Nimmo-Smith suggested that the district council, which is giving £326,000 to the scheme, was "over-provided with funding" and should dig into its pockets to give more cash.

"All the local authorities in Cambridgeshire would like to have free travel for the over-60s right across the county, but the shortfall preventing the scheme being countywide is fundamentally the result of a muddled miscalculation by the Treasury when it made the grants, which has left some of our neighbouring councils with a shortfall," said Mr Archer, the district council's director of development.

Under the system, introduced by the Government in April, residents over 60, the disabled and visually impaired can travel free across East Cambridgeshire after 9.30am but must buy a half-price ticket when they cross into another district.

Two weeks ago, district councillors gave their full support to a free countywide scheme calling on officers to discuss the project with their opposite numbers across the county.

But rural councils are facing high costs to pay for more cross-boundary journeys compared with the city councils and some claim they just haven't got enough cash.

"Our assessment is that we may well need to put in further additional resources - over and above the grant increase - to help fund the scheme," said Mr Archer.

"While we sympathise with the predicament of those local authorities who are unable to contribute their fare shares towards the amount needed to make the concessionary scheme entirely free, it would be unfair to ask East Cambridgeshire's Council Tax payers to put their hands in their pockets to make up the deficit in Gordon Brown's grants.

"East Cambs had done its bit and honoured its full commitment to the scheme, and now it's down to the Government to get its grants' allocations right so as to make up the cash shortfall.

"This is the result of inadequate funding from central Government to support its promise of free local bus travel for the elderly made in last year's Budget. This is a Treasury-made muddle which should be the responsibility of the Treasury to set right.

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