By a Newsnet reporter
The SNP has condemned Labour scaremongering over free bus passes and said their campaign was further evidence of how desperate the party has become in the run up to the local elections.
The SNP condemnation came after Labour claimed that free bus passes for older people and disabled people in Scotland were under threat due to a cut in the Bus Services Operator Grant.
The Scottish Government has been forced to make cuts due to the Westminster-imposed austerity agenda.
Scottish Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure and Capital Investment sought to turn the issue into an attack on the SNP. MSP Richard Baker said:
“Concessionary travel is one of Scottish Labour’s proudest achievements and must be protected to ensure that older and disable people in Scotland can continue to receive this vital service that helps tackle the problems they too often face of financial and social exclusion. However, the future of this scheme is now under threat from the SNP.
“Not only are the SNP not doing enough to protect hard-pressed passengers, they seem to be doing everything in their power to discourage people from using buses.
“By cutting the Bus Services Operator Grant by 20% and failing to fund free bus travel for older and disabled passengers properly, the SNP government must realise that it will be hard-pressed passengers that will pay the price for its cuts.”
The Scottish Government denied the Labour claim, and said that the bus operators will receive “every penny” of the public funds they are granted in order to provide the concessionary travel scheme.
SNP MSP James Dornan also denied Mr Baker’s claim, describing it as “scaremongering” and a symptom of Labour’s “desperation”. Mr Dornan asserted that the SNP is committed to maintaining the concessionary travel scheme for older people and people with disabilities.
Mr Dornan pointed out that the Labour party is the only party which has cut or restricted free travel for older people. In England the Labour party raised the age limit for the scheme, reducing the number of people eligible for free bus travel.
Mr Dornan, MSP for Glasgow Cathcart, said:
“Labour should be ashamed of themselves for this scaremongering and their bus campaign shows how desperate they have become.
“It was the legislation introduced by Labour that means bus operators have to stick within the budget they are given. So it’s a bit rich of Labour to complain about it now.
“The SNP maintains its absolute commitment to concessionary fares to benefit older and disabled people across Scotland. So it is completely irresponsible for Labour to threaten older people over the future of this scheme.
“It is particularly reckless to make these threats when the SNP is not just committed to the scheme but is also extending it.
“In the face of massive public sector cuts, Scotland’s bus companies have received every penny of the £180m promised for concessionary travel this year and we are investing even more next year.
“But what we really need to help bus companies and motorists across the country is for the UK Government to implement a fuel duty regulator to combat the increase in fuel costs that are crippling all commuters. That is what is really driving up prices and is another reason why we are investing in green buses to cut fuel costs.
“The SNP has consistently argued for a fuel duty regulator and in contrast the only measure Labour introduced was the fuel price escalator that increased the misery for motorists.
“In fact Labour are the only party in this parliament with a record of cutting concessionary travel having raised the age limit for older people in England.”