By Ian Dipple Thursday 18 October 2012 Updated: 18/10 23:44
REINTRODUCING free early morning bus travel for elderly and disabled people could cost more than originally budgeted for or mean residents in part of the borough miss out, it has been claimed.
Councillors gave the green light at an executive committee meeting on Tuesday (October 16) for negotiations to begin with the six bus companies in the borough to thrash out the finer details of a deal to reintroduce a pre-9.30am concessionary fare scheme.
The council has agreed £43,000 to fund the scheme this year and a maximum of £86,000 in future years. But it is still not known if all bus companies will agree to the scheme and if the number of people travelling pre-9.30am increases dramatically they may ask for more money.
Coun Carole Gandy, leader of the Conservative group, said the Labour group could be faced with the politically embarrassing choice of admitting the scheme was going to cost more than originally planned or not funding some routes.
"I did not support spending taxpayers money on this scheme, but if we are going to have this scheme then it has got to be for everybody who can access it. You can't say to the new town you can have it, but to the people in Batchley and Webheath you can't because the bus operators going through there aren't prepared to support it."
Coun Mike Braley said by publicly declaring the maximum amount the council was prepared to spend, it had hampered their negotiations and also raised a list of concerns about value for money including the need to issue over 13,000 new cards to pass holders and how the number of pre-9.30am journeys was going to be recorded.
"The fact a driver just clicks a button to record a journey strikes me as bizarre. Who else would approve such a system but a council and only one that wants very poor value for money."
Council leader Bill Hartnett dismissed Coun Gandy's concerns as 'speculation' and said the £86,000 was a starting point estimated by officers and they were still going through the process.
Coun Greg Chance, deputy leader, said 80 per cent of the new cards would be issued at renewal time anyway, so they were saving money.
"We promised to deliver a pre-9.30am scheme, we're going to deliver that, and we are aiming to deliver it for everybody. If the Conservatives were still running the council, nobody would be getting it. We're striving to do a proper and thorough job, and taking our time to do it, to ensure we get value for money and I'm confident we will do that."
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