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Crunch talks on bus cash.

Byline: By Peter Young

Free travel fears

Ministers are facing showdown talks with transport chiefs over the funding of free bus travel for pensioners.

Subsidised bus routes and children's concessionary fares in Tyne & Wear are under threat and the implications will be spelled out at a meeting with Local Government Minister Phil Woolas.

On the same day Newcastle City Council leaders, who said they've received one of the worst grant settlements in the country, will meet the Minister to ask for more cash.

The council's Liberal Democrat leaders, who are trying to peg local tax rises to the rate of inflation, say cuts on services and jobs are on the cards.

Chancellor Gordon Brown announced a national free bus travel scheme for pensioners and disabled people in his last Budget and allocated pounds 350m.

Tyne & Wear will get pounds 12.7m but leaders of the Passenger Transport Authority say they need another pounds 7.7m to balance the books or services will have to be cut.

Chairman Coun David Wood said the Government grant formula was to blame and other metropolitan transport authorities have received the cash they need.

Money is allocated according to population rather trips made which means Tyne & Wear, where fewer people have cars and large numbers of pensioners use the buses, misses out.

"We are the victims of our own success because we have one of the best public transport systems in the country," he said.

The meeting with Mr Woolas has been arranged with the help of local MPs, including David Clelland, Tyne Bridge, and Nick Brown, Newcastle East and Wallsend.

Coun Wood is also seeking a meeting with David Miliband, MP for South Shields, who is Minister for Communities and Local Government.

Coun Wood said: "I am pleased Mr Woolas has agreed to meet us. We will explain the predicament and hopefully the Government will see sense."

In Newcastle the Lib Dems will have the support of opposition Labour councillors.

Deputy Lib Dem leader, Coun John Shipley, said: "The council is facing a serious budget shortfall and we will urge the Government to treat Newcastle fairly."
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Dec 9, 2005
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