Clause 1 — Eligibility for travel concessions: age
Orders of the Day — Travel Concessions (Eligibility) Bill [Lords]
Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch, Conservative)
I agree absolutely. The trouble with the Government is that they consistently say one thing and do another, and they use words ambiguously to give people a misleading impression. We are not talking about any additional costs to Government. All we are talking about is a fair distribution of the costs that are incurred by local authorities as a result of Government-imposed legislation and ending the two-tier system. Today the financial services ombudsman has had something to say about the two-tier system operating in the Halifax building society. The Government have been presiding over a multi-tier system for reimbursing local authorities for the costs of concessionary fares, which is totally unjust.
It is not as though we are asking the earth. There is already a system in place to reimburse London authorities for the actual costs of concessionary fares, rather than the notional or pooled costs, so there is no reason why the Government could not introduce a system that reimbursed local authorities for the actual costs of the statutory concessionary fare scheme, rather than using the formulaic system of distribution which is so unjust.
I had no quarrels with the old system, under which concessionary fares were regarded as a matter for local discretion. The local authority could decide how much money to spend on concessionary fares and what sort of scheme to operate. In so far as they were able to draw on resources in the environmental services block grant, they could do so.
The Government changed the rules and there is now no option for local authorities but to comply with the new rigid and centrally imposed rules. It is right and proper that local authorities should be reimbursed accordingly. As I said at the outset, this gives the Government an opportunity to admit that they have made a mistake, that they are willing to learn from it, and that, from now on, they will reimburse all the local authority costs incurred as a result of the legislation. If they did so, it would enable councils such as Christchurch and East Dorset to impose much lower council tax increases next year than are currently in prospect.
During yesterday's debate on the revenue support grant and the level of the finance settlement, the Minister for Local Government said that the Government were being generous to local authorities. Some of us were left with the impression that the Minister was more generous to some local authorities than to others. Today, the Under–Secretary has an opportunity to demonstrate by her actions and words that she believes in justice and equity for local authorities and that she accepts that it is unfair that some local authorities should benefit by more than the costs they incur while others receive less than their costs. The amendment is a simple and equitable proposition and I hope that the Minister will accede to it.