Labour must clarify its position on free bus travel for elderly

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Labour’s failure to vote in favour of a key order to maintain concessionary bus travel has raised alarm that the party is on the brink of committing itself to axe the scheme.

The Scottish Parliament’s Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee today voted through a subordinate legislation order that is essential for the National Bus Travel scheme to continue, but Labour failed to support the measure.

Labour’s absention came despite a manifesto commitment made by the party during the Scottish elections in 2011, when Labour promised to “sustain the concessionary travel scheme and better link it to community transport initiatives”.

Last year Labour’s Holyrood leader Johann Lamont established a Cuts Commission aimed at slashing universal benefits such as the older person’s bus pass, with the stark warning that “nothing is off the table”. Ms Lamont has since refused to answer questions about which specific benefits her party seeks to target for cuts.

The failure of Labour to support Concessionary Travel in this week’s Scottish Parliament committee will raise fears that Labour is set to change its policy and could axe the bus pass if it ever returned to office.

Commenting, SNP MSP Gordon MacDonald who sits on the Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee said:

“This extraordinary failure to back concessionary travel in today’s vote will set alarm bells ringing in communities across Scotland.

“We knew that free bus travel for older people was in Johann Lamont’s Cuts Commission’s firing line, but there will be real concern that today’s events mean that Labour has firmly decided to ends its support.

“With even the Tories voting in favour of continuing concessionary travel, you have to wonder what on earth Labour was up to be refusing to do so.

“Despite backing the scheme in its Holyrood manifesto just two years ago, it seems Labour is determined to break its word to people across Scotland.

“By enabling people access to movement across Scotland, concessionary travel encourages physical and mental well-being and helps strengthen family and community ties.

“In contrast to Labour’s determination to impose restrictions to the scheme, the SNP is in no doubt about the need to protect the scheme that provides a lifeline to so many of Scotland’s older people.

“Since the concessions scheme introduction in 2006/7 the Scottish Government will have increased funding by £33m or 20% by the end of the agreed period of 2014/15.

“Policies like concessionary travel are part of the social contract that binds Scotland together and Labour’s foolish determination to undermine these services is rightly causing widespread anger in communities across Scotland.”