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Outrage as free travel budget cash is slashed

PUBLISHED: 16:44 06 January 2010 | UPDATED: 17:28 25 August 2010

THE government is facing a revolt over the slashing of free travel pass budgets for pensioners. Both Bexley and Bromley councils are considering a judicial review into the proposal by the Department for Transport to slash £28 million in funding for Freed

THE government is facing a revolt over the slashing of free travel pass budgets for pensioners.

Both Bexley and Bromley councils are considering a judicial review into the proposal by the Department for Transport to slash £28 million in funding for Freedom Passes.

The move has left Bexley council with a £1 million black hole in its finances just two months before its annual budget gets signed off. The decision by Transport Minister Sadiq Khan to almost half the DfT's cash provision for the scheme tears up a three-year deal already agreed in 2008 with the councils worth £58 million for 2010/2011.

Bexley's cabinet member for transport, Peter Craske, described the move as "immoral" and said it will mean services being cut or a one percent hike in council tax. He urged residents to sign a Downing Street online petition to ask the Prime Minister to step in and reinstate the deal.

Mr Craske said: "This is going to have a significant impact on Bexley taxpayers. It's completely unfair.

"Only two months before we agree our budget we're told the funding is going to be nearly slashed in half. Even if this is legally legitimate it's immoral and wrong.

"It either means cutting services or raising taxes." He said the council will be considering judicial review to try and reverse the decision, along with Bromley council, "We are considering all options to fight against these measures," he added.

He reassured holders of the Freedom Passes that the scheme will be guaranteed under a five-year agreement set up with the London Mayor's office.

The council will be seeking assurances about the government funding beyond 2011, which are uncertain, and could leave London councils forking out millions and raising question marks over its long-term viability.

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.

"It was predicted that a very significant grant would be necessary for London to meet the cost of concessionary passengers from the surrounding counties now travelling for free on the extensive London Bus Network. However it has become clear that there have been far fewer of these trips than was anticipated.

"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. We hope to publish the final grant distribution early in the New Year."

martin.sawden@archant.co.uk

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