MPs back Norfolk’s fight to claw back missing bus fares millions

Norfolk MPs have pledged they will fight to stop the county from being out of pocket because of the need to pay bus operators for free bus travel for thousands of pensioners.

As reported in the EDP, leaders at Norfolk County Council say ministers have short-changed Norfolk by up to �4.5m by not handing over enough money to reimburse bus operators who provide concessionary bus travel.

The county council, which from April will take over responsibility from district councils for paying back bus companies for the free travel by pass holders, has been given �7.2m to pay back bus companies when the cost could be as high as �11.7m.

The county council is joining forces with 15 other councils also missing millions of pounds to demand the government plugs the gap and MPs have supported their stance.

Great Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis, is among those putting pressure on the government to give Norfolk a fair deal and wrote to the government about it before Christmas. Norwich North MP Chloe Smith did likewise and said: 'This is a complex situation. There isn't exactly any spare cash to try to tap into, as everyone knows, but as in all things I want us to get a reasonable and fair deal within that.'

South West Norfolk MP Liz Truss said she supported the county council's efforts, while Norwich South MP Simon Wright said: 'I would be happy to raise the issue with Communities Secretary Eric Pickles. I am always keen to work with councils and MPs to see if there is a case for working together in Norfolk's best interests.'

Graham Plant, county council cabinet member for travel and transport has already warned that services could suffer unless the government pays Norfolk what it needs.

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He said: 'If the gap is not made up we will have to take the money from other services. Other services will suffer and we have already had to end the discretionary extra hour in the morning.

'At the end of the day, if we are providing a service the government says we need to provide, then the government needs to understand that it has to be paid for.

'I don't mind doing what is asked of us, but the government doctrine is that nobody should be worse or better off, but Norfolk is worse off.'

The county council has already decided to ditch the extra hour which means bus pass holders could get free bus travel from 8.30am,

Instead, the council will offer the statutory free travel hours of 9,30am to 11pm on weekdays, while free bus travel on park and ride services for bus pass holders will also cease.

Bus pass holders will instead have to pay �1 for a return ticket on services at the park and ride sites.

A national campaign launched yesterday by the Campaign for Better Transport highlighted how councils are axing rural bus routes because they are short of cash. While Norfolk County Council scaled back its initial plans to slash its subsidies to buses by �1m, so �420,000 was taken away instead, councillors have warned services will suffer unless the government plays fair over fares.

Sophie Allain, buses campaigner at Campaign for Better Transport said she was pleased the amount Norfolk County Council was planning to cut from bus subsidies had been reduced following the Big Conversation.

But she criticised the council for still spending money on modelling and planning work for the controversial Northern Distributor Road.