The row between Mayor of London Ken Livingstone and London Councils, the body representing the Capital’s local authorities, hotted up yesterday when London Councils issued a statement calling “on the government to prevent the Mayor of London using the Freedom Pass free travel scheme as a stealth tax on Londoners.”
The pass provides free travel to older and disabled Londoners across the capital’s buses, trains, tubes, and trams.
According to London Councils the pass will cost its’ members £216million in the current year compared to £142 million in 2000-2001. Any changes to costs are agreed between the Transport for London and local councils however if agreement can’t be reached the Mayor, through TfL, has the power to impose a settlement.
The body claimed “London’s local authorities have no intention of changing any of the benefits enjoyed by the capital’s older and disabled people under the scheme. However London Councils believes the Mayor is putting the future of the pass at risk through his excessive demands on the cost of providing it.”
It is seeking to introduce changes through the Concessionary Bus Travel Bill which would see the Mayor stripped of this power with central Government acting “as the final arbiter”.
Chair of London Councils’ Transport and Environment Committee, Cllr Daniel Moylan accused Mayor Livingstone of “using the Freedom Pass as a stealth tax on Londoners”.
However the Mayor, who today met with representatives of disability and older peoples groups, hit back claiming “yesterday’s attack on the Freedom Pass by the body that is supposed to protect it shows that there is now a real attack on this concession.”
Mr Livingstone warned of “a clear and sustained attack on the Freedom Pass” saying beneficiaries of the scheme “should be under no illusion – the basis of the Freedom pass is now under repeated attack.”
Disputing London Councils’ figures the Mayor has issued a statement claiming “on average there has been an annual increase of 1 per cent above inflation when the extension of the scheme to include men from age 60, and to give disabled people all day free travel is considered. This reflects the fact that many more people are now using the Freedom Pass following the massive improvements we have made to the transport system.”
Support for Mr Livingstone’s stance was widespread this morning with a number of groups issuing statements backing him:
Graeme Matthews, Secretary of the London Older People’s Strategies Group:
“The London Older People’s Strategies Group completely support the Mayor’s statement on the need to maintain the freedom pass in its current form and are deeply concerned about the moves to abolish the Mayor’s guarantee of the scheme. Withdrawal or restriction of the current travel pass would destroy at a stroke the massive and unique contribution of older and disabled people to the life of the city and disastrously restrict the lives of over a million Londoners.”
Haqeeq Bostan, Director of Independent Living Alternatives:
“The freedom pass gives disabled and older people in London a real opportunity to live independent lives. Any restrictions on the use of the freedom pass would seriously undermine the ability of disabled and older people to participate in community activities, visit friends and family and make the necessary choices to remain active and independent in their community.”
Stephen Burke, Chief Executive of Counsel and Care:
“The Freedom Pass is much valued by older Londoners and their families. It makes living in London a lot easier for older people and provides independence, flexibility and freedom. Quite rightly older people are angry about any threat to the future of the Freedom Pass.”