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Free Norfolk bus travel hours cut looms

Plans to cut the times when pensioners can use their bus passes to get free travel around Norfolk have edged a step closer after councillors heard Norfolk County Council cannot afford to offer more than the statutory minimum.

The authority takes over responsibility for administering the free travel scheme for people eligible for bus passes next year.

But, at a meeting of the county council’s cabinet yesterday, officers made clear the county council cannot afford to offer free travel between 8.30am and 9.30am – which is above and beyond the statutory minimum.

Tracy Jessop, head of the county council’s passenger transport unit, said: “If people travel, then we have a statutory duty to reimburse the bus companies.

“That is why we have been very careful to minimise the risk to the authority by offering only the statutory minimum, which is less than the districts currently do.

“There is little that we can do in terms of mitigating against demand, but what we can do is reduce what is currently provided.”

While the council will not find out the government’s final guidance on reimbursement until later this month, the report by officers said there was “a significant risk” that government funding will not cover the cost of that pay-out next year.

And the guidance received from the government so far suggests that £100m will be removed from the national funding pot to cover the cost of reimbursing bus companies.

Cabinet member Harry Humphrey said: “When the district councils were running this, we did hear that the cost was more than they were getting back from the government.

“I think we do have to be very careful how we manage this, given the government is taking £100m out of the scheme nationally.”

In 2008/9 the county’s seven district councils paid back almost £10m to bus operators to make up the money the companies missed out on because people took advantage of free bus travel.

In May last year Norwich City Council, which currently administers the concessionary fares scheme on journeys starting in the city, axed the extra hour it offered bus users, but it was restored this spring.

A draft plan making clear to bus operators how the county council plans to deal with the administration of the fares needs to be drawn up by the start of December.

The cabinet agreed yesterday that Graham Plant, cabinet member for travel and transport, should be delegated approval to determine that draft scheme, although it can still be called back to cabinet for final approval.

How would you be affected by the scrapping of the extra free hour? Write to Evening News Letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email eveningnewsletters@archant.co.uk

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