The Mayor of London has recently claimed that London Councils is trying to change or scrap the benefits enjoyed by the capital's older and disabled people through the Freedom Pass. Today (Wednesday) he has even claimed that his opposition to this 'threat' was supported by Tony Blair during Prime Minister's Question Time.
I want to make it perfectly clear that there has never been any kind of threat from London's boroughs to any of the benefits enjoyed by London's older and disabled Freedom Pass holders.
The boroughs have been running and paying for the Freedom Pass for 23 years and we remain fully committed to it.
London Councils is simply calling for a fairer way of agreeing the annual cost of the Freedom Pass with Transport for London (TfL) - the Mayor's transport body - to protect council tax payers from being held to ransom by TfL.
At present, the annual cost of providing the Pass is negotiated between London Councils, which represents all of the capital's boroughs, TfL and National Rail. If no agreement is reached the Mayor of London currently has the power through TfL to dictate how much each council should pay to provide the Freedom Pass. This is known as the 'reserve scheme'.
As a result the annual negotiations are continually threatened by TfL's power to set any amount it wants. It is costing London's boroughs £216 million to provide the Pass in the current financial year, compared to £142 million in 2000-2001. This represents an increase of 52 per cent since the year that TfL was created - and ultimately these increased costs are borne by you, the council taxpayer.
Because of this London Councils is proposing a fairer method of negotiating the price of the Pass. If no agreement can be reached, we believe that the Secretary of State for Transport should decide the cost of the scheme, and not TfL. This would protect the Freedom Pass while preventing additional pressures being put on London's council tax payers.
We are sorry that the Mayor's claims are causing needless concern and distress to those who rely on their Freedom Pass to move around our great city. But please be reassured that London's boroughs have no desire or intention to reduce any of the elements of the Freedom Pass.
Our only desire is to maintain those benefits at a fair cost to the council tax payer.
Cllr Daniel Moylan
Chairman London Councils Transport and Environment Committee