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All Aboard ?

All Aboard?As we approach one of the bigger (and better) changes in public transport since the destruction of our railways by Dr. Beeching, the 10.3 million people in England aged 60 or over eagerly await their new bus pass that will give them free off-peak unlimited travel on local bus services.

But this is worrying the Commissar.

He is so worried about it, he is going to close a modern swimming pool in St Anne's just in case he overspends on bus fares.

Our regulars know the story already (for the background see Bus or Busted). He said he was going to be £300,000 short for the OAP bus money this year, so he had to close the Swimming Pool.

This is a complete untruth. He's not £300,000 short at all.

Fylde's budget cost centre for concessionary travel is 'No: 4400' The most recent published version of Fylde's detailed budget showing this cost centre (March 08 and available from FBC's website) shows the following net spending on concessionary travel:

Total actual cost in 2006/07 was £899,407
Estimated cost for 2007/08 was £832,751
Revised estimate for 2007/08 was £951,394
Estimate for next year 2008/09 is £908,452

On our calculator, next year is about £43,000 less that he expects to spend in 2007/08.

Quite where the £300,000 overspend comes from we can't see? Can you?

What he probably meant - in the dangerous way he now attempts to deceive us with his selective presentation of information - was that the spending on bus passes was going up, whilst conveniently forgetting to mention it was offset by an extra Government grant of £275,000 and savings elsewhere.

You simply can't trust what this man says any more.

Both he and Dim Tim have been scaremongering people into believing that "everyone who comes here will have the right to free travel to take them home" in order to make their planned asset stripping of the swimming pool site appear more palatable.

This is just what it is. Scaremongering and asset stripping.

First, the concessions only apply to the over 60s - which are 21% of the population in England, and secondly, around 98% of visitors arriving here come by car. Less than 2% come by bus or coach. So something like of 2% of 21% (around 0.4%) of visitors might be bus users.

Second, the scheme applies to 'local bus journeys" and to be eligible, the routes must have been registered as a local bus service.

Typically, a local bus service would include any type of town bus service, or a rural service which observes all bus stops, or an interurban service (lovely word that) observing all bus stops and which may include a limited stop section of route where the distance between stops is within 15 miles (21.4 kms).

So most folk who get on a bus here will change at Blackpool or Preston, and it's those places - the transport hubs for this area - that will probably get hit the hardest, because new journeys will start there, and they will have to bear the cost of the journey that starts from there.

Thirdly, Fylde has signed up to the Lancashire scheme where all the money they get for concessionary travel is paid in to a central, Lancashire-wide (including the non-County councils of Blackpool and Blackburn) pot, from which all payments to the bus companies will be made, so there will be considerable 'smoothing' of the actual cost.

Fourth, if his fear of overspending on concessionary travel was so great he had to close the pool, why on earth has he agreed to include the optional extra service of free travel on the Blackpool tram system and the Knott End ferryboat, when he was not required to provide these at all?

Like swimming pools, trams and ferryboats are a non-statutory service. But he's closing one non statutory service and introducing a new one.

Why? you might ask.

Our guess at the answer is that there is a party political move afoot to merge Blackpool, Wyre and Fylde Councils together into a single unit. That would, as a senior Labour friend of counterbalance from Blackpool has told us, more or less guarantee a Conservative Council over the whole of the Fylde plain for quite some time.

It might also explain why the Commissar here is riding so arrogantly roughshod over the wishes of the people that elected him.

It's quite possible he doesn't care about us. He is looking for a parliamentary seat and wants to stay in the good books of the higher echelons within the party.

What better way than to use the guise of 'joint working' and 'efficiency cost savings' to obscure his higher purpose that might well be gerrymandering to merge Blackpool Fylde and Wyre for party political ends.

He's better be careful though, That's the sort of thing that Dame Shirley Porter got up to whilst leader of Westminster City Council. She oversaw the "Building Stable Communities" policy, which was later shown to be a "homes for votes" policy. It was held to be illegal by the district auditor, and a surcharge of £27m was levied on her in 1996.

Sadly, Government has since quietly changed the law, and surcharges like this have now been dropped as a sanction. Nevertheless, free reign is not assured.

We warned this sort of gerrymandering might be a tempting option back in our report 'Election Results 2007' almost a year ago.

So, what the scaremongering and asset stripping plan shows, is that closing the pool because of the bus-pass money just doesn't wash.

THE TRAVELLERS TALE
Someone very close to counterbalance - we'll call him Mr Traveller - had his 60th birthday just before the new rules came in, so we're going to put a periodic diary of his experience here in counterbalance, so you can see how it all works. Here's the first instalment.......

So far it has been mostly painless. A magazine advert said he could apply for a NoW card (NorthWest, geddit?), and 'ding ding' off you go.

Being a silver surfer, he first tried the Internet, but (probably) because of terrorism and the huge risk of moneylaundering with bus fares, you need to provide the sort of things normally reserved for bullion dealers to prove their identity.

So although our friend has maybe 10 online bank and building society accounts, where his identity has already been confirmed with blood-signed pacts and the like, their word counts for naught, and he had to apply in person.

Well, that's e-government for you.

So our friend sent his wife to town for a form.

First stop (so to speak) was the Tourist Information bubble in St Anne's Square. No joy there. They said go and see 'Age Concern.'

But the 'One Stop Shop' was nearer, and Mrs. Traveller was off that way, (to M&S) so in she went, and brought a form home for completion.

Nothing too complicated on the form (good job really, given the rate of brain cell reduction that's going on under the silver). But it needed a photo. Fortunately an old passport set still had a spare photo in it, so that was duly stuck-on, signed, and the form passed back for transmission - along with the inside leg measurement plus other essential anti-moneylaundering data - on the next uptown visit by Mrs. Traveller.

That next day, the completed form was taken into Age Concern. They said they are dealing with form processing until 1st April, after which the form would have to go to the 'One Stop Shop'. (We wonder if that might be something to do with Government paying extra for the issue of cards this year :-))

Confusingly, the One Stop Shop had said they were dealing with them from 7th April, not 1st. So it might be an idea to avoiding the period 1-7 April if at all possible.

However Age Concern were very helpful (and very busy), and said it would take about a week to come, as it was done in Preston.

According to the 'NoW' card website, from April Fool's day (nice one that!) Mr Traveller should be able to travel free throughout England on "local bus services" after 09.30am and before 11.00pm Monday to Friday and at all times on Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays.

We hope those times are something that apply to the start of the journey. Otherwise, being thown off in the middle of Blackpool at 11pm would be enough to stop most sensible folk from setting out at all.

One problem is that bus services which observe stops over 15 miles (21.4 kms) apart are regarded as "Express services", for example National Express services, and are therefore excluded from the English National Concession scheme.

Although so far as Mr Traveller can work out, the old X42 Express service to Morecambe is a registered bus service, so he thinks he can still go on that. (Not that anyone would really want to go from St Anne's to Morecambe, its a bit like travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho - although someone did say they thought there might still be a swimming pool open in Morecambe.......).

Interestingly he also heard that Government has reserve powers to take over the payment and administration of the scheme.

Even more interesting, given Fylde's signing up to the 'Lancashire pot' scheme is the power that exits for Government to "to transfer responsibility for concessionary travel to upper-tier local authorities." (we take that to mean instead of giving the money to Fylde, it could go to LCC - which would be a shame if our contention is right and Preston and Blackpool become losers and Fylde would otherwise have become a winner).

Sadly for Mr Traveller, (and giving the lie to our Commissars threat of having to pay for hordes of Cornishmen to go home), scheduled coach services are not included (unless they are also registered as local services). Nor can he use the concession in Wales of Scotland.

We figure there will be some interesting situations where roads snake in and out of England over the mountainous areas of the Welsh border. (free trip, pay, refund, pay, refund....etc)

He also found out that ferries or trams will be outside the new national concession, but councils are allowed to offer concessions that go beyond the statutory minimum as an additional benefit to their eligible residents.

More surprising was that "such wider concessions will continue to be funded from local authorities' own resources".

Which is what Fylde did, after deciding to close the swimming pool. And note, the tram and ferry use is paid for by Fylde taxpayers, not Government.

Finally, despite all the Commissar's protestations of not being funded enough, Mr Traveller was surprised to learn that the Government is "funding local authorities for (reasonable) new cost burdens which result from implementing the scheme, and is also paying a grant of £4.00 per pass currently in circulation, uplifted by 20%". to cover the changeover.

That might be why the job of dealing with applications is going back in-house to Fylde next month.

Terrible innit, how the Commissar keeps getting all these new duties from Government but is never given any money to implement them.

Yeah, right!

Dated:  19 March 2008 


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