National Concessionary Travel Scheme

– in the Scottish Parliament on 28th September 2017.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Richard Leonard Richard Leonard Labour

6. To ask the First Minister whether the Scottish Government will give a commitment in the week of international day of older persons that eligibility criteria for the national concessionary travel scheme will not change during the current parliamentary session. (S5F-01595)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

We will continue to ensure that our national concessionary travel scheme benefits those who rely on free bus travel, which is why we are asking people across Scotland for their views on how best to ensure that the bus pass is sustainable for the long term.

The consultation is just that—no decisions will be made until all the responses have been fully considered. Whatever the outcome, nobody’s bus pass will be taken away from them and, indeed, some people who do not currently qualify for a bus pass will do so in the future.

Photo of Richard Leonard Richard Leonard Labour

I thank the First Minister for that answer. It is true that, in her programme for government, there is a commitment to continuing the concessionary travel scheme, which was introduced by a Labour-led Scottish Executive. However, that commitment is qualified by the phrase

“while ensuring the scheme is sustainable in the longer term.”

Will the First Minister confirm today that there will be no raising of the qualifying age, no administrative charges implemented, no one-off payment required, no means testing and no other barrier introduced that will prevent all those aged 60 and over from accessing the scheme?

The First Minister:

I know that Scottish Labour has somewhat lost touch with reality, but is Richard Leonard really suggesting that we should have a scheme in place that is not sustainable for the long term? It is because we value the bus pass scheme and want to see it continue to benefit people right across Scotland that we are having the consultation to make sure that it is sustainable for the long term and that people long into the future can continue to enjoy the benefits of it.

That really is the difference between the SNP and Labour. We fight for Scotland. Scottish Labour just fight among themselves. It was incredible yesterday, was it not? We had Richard Leonard accused by Jackie Baillie of betraying every value that Labour holds dear, and then we had Richard Leonard saying that this was just the latest Jackie Baillie—

The First Minister:

I cannot actually say it, Presiding Officer. Let us just say that it is a description that covers much of what Jackie Baillie says in the chamber.

The Presiding Officer:

First Minister, the question was about national entitlement cards.

The First Minister:

The serious issue is this. This Government continues to take the decisions that are in the interests of the people of Scotland. By contrast, Scottish Labour’s behaviour is selfish and self-indulgent, and it proves that it is not fit to be an Opposition, let alone a Government.

Photo of James Dornan James Dornan Scottish National Party

I am delighted that the First Minister has confirmed that all those who currently have a bus pass will continue to receive one. Can she also confirm to me that those who obtain one before any changes may be made will continue to receive it?

Can she update me and the Parliament as to the current total number of older and disabled people who benefit from free travel with the national entitlement card and how that compares with the number when this Government entered office after a Labour Executive being in place?

The First Minister:

Thousands of people across Scotland are benefiting from the scheme, and we want to make sure that they continue to benefit from it. As well as giving the guarantee that everybody who has a bus pass and everybody who gets a bus pass before the end of the consultation will continue to have it, we have also set out plans to extend eligibility to apprentices—to young people who are making their way in the world—to help them with the costs of travel as well.

This Government will continue to protect such schemes, which are about helping people across the country. That is in stark contrast to a Tory party that is all about tax cuts for the rich and a Labour Party that only wants to fight amongst itself.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

I ask the First Minister whether she is aware of Roseanna Cunningham’s statement just yesterday, in which she said:

“encouraging behaviour change that moves people out of cars and into efficient and low-emission buses ... will help to reduce congestion and emissions at the same time.”—[

Official Report

, 27 September 2017; c 21.]

That is a win-win situation for everybody. Are the Government’s environmental and transport strategies aligned? Are we getting joined-up Government with them?

The First Minister:

The short answer is yes. Obviously, I am very well aware of Roseanna Cunningham’s statement yesterday—I thought that it was an excellent statement—in which she set out the action that we are taking in the transport sector to help to meet our climate change obligations. Indeed, I think that today, or very shortly, we will announce additional funding through the green bus fund, which is helping to ensure that we have low-emission buses on our roads as well.

It is absolutely right—for once, and I concede that it is a rare occasion, I agree with Mike Rumbles—to say that getting people out of cars and into buses is one of the most important things that we can do to reduce congestion and lower emissions. That is why the bus pass scheme is so important, but it is also why all the other actions that I have spoken about, around electric vehicles, low-emission zones and doubling the active travel budget, are so important as well.