Bus passes – save us the parade of the bleeding stumps

The bus pass saga shows us that some people in government still in some cases do not get it.

The Conservatives – rightly or wrongly – fought the last election on defending the bus pass. So did Labour, and I guess so did the Lib Dems.

So why did the Transport Department propose cutting Bus pass eligibility as one of its cuts? It was never likely to happen. Worse still, why did someone leak they were doing this, when the idea is for the Treasury’s spending review to look at a wide range of cuts from the easy to the much less acceptable and come to a decision in private, before then going out and trying to sell the end package to Parliament and people?

The language of 40% cuts is unhelpful. They may be looking at 40% real cuts over four years – not the same thing as 40% off next year’s cash which is what most people think they are proposing. They are not going to settle for 40% real cuts over four years or anything near that, given the overall increases in cash spending proposed. Some individual items – like ID cards, CAE bureaucratic controls over Councils and much unelected regional government – will get 100% cuts. That just takes more of the pressure off elsewhere.


  1. Kevin Peat
    July 16, 2010

    Could it be that it is more important to signal – and overstate – serious public sector cuts to the international money lenders rather than alay the fears of the public ?

  2. oldrightie
    July 16, 2010

    Bus passes and fuel allowances are all very well for 65+. At 60, when many people are still working they were just a sop to persuade people to vote Labour. A bribe, no more or less. I see no problem withdrawing these perks from the working population.

  3. English Pensioner
    July 16, 2010

    These perks, such as bus passes, do, of course, involve quite a bit of bureaucracy. They have to be issued, renewed, accounted for, payments made, etc, all of which cost money. The same applies to other pensioner payments such as the winter fuel allowance and Xmas bonus. In our case, for purely PC reasons, each year my wife and I both receive a letter telling us that we will get half the amount, and in due course two payments are made into the same joint account. Oh and next year I'll get a free TV licence, I wonder if my wife be allowed to watch it with me?.
    Personally, I would prefer to see the state pension increased appropriately and all these perks abolished which in turn should then produce a significant saving in administrative costs.

    1. roger
      July 17, 2010

      agree 100%

  4. Shaun Pilkington
    July 16, 2010

    I have MS. I have a free bus pass which I use to get to the odd client meeting (for due to my condition, I have to work freelance since it's too random to inflict on an employer). If I didn't have the bus pass, I'd either not do meetings (and thus deprive the Treasury of tax revenue on my earnings) or do the meetings and make the taxpayer pay via the 'Access to Work' scheme.

  5. Demetrius
    July 16, 2010

    As the proud owner of a bus pass, I find it makes a useful ID card. What matters however is not so much the existence of bus passes but how much additional transport costs are incurred by running services for non paying customers. In this case my figure is zero because despite being on a main road in an urban area I have no actual bus service.

  6. Hereward
    July 16, 2010

    "why did someone leak they were doing this"

    Perhaps because some in the Civil Service are not as impartial as they ought to be?

  7. TJB
    July 16, 2010

    If I were the cynical type I would wonder if some politically neutral civil servants may, perhaps, be leaning slightly off to the Left.

  8. Alan Jutson
    July 16, 2010

    Afraid that during the last 13 years we have a culture which has developed that spending will forever increase. The Prime Minister thought it could, the Ministers thought it could, the government department heads thought it could, the staff thought it could.

    Now commonsense is having to prevail TO SURVIVE, some in those departments are kicking against it with leaks, spin and opposition to anything which is proposed.

    Many of those staff (huge numbers employed) seem unable to have any capacity for original thought or loyalty.

    Some people will have to learn the real meaning of the official secrets act about disclosure, or face the sack.

    I hope commonsense will prevail in the end with regard to neccessary cuts and attitude of staff, and that we can all pull together, its a very long haul to even make an impression on the fanasy world of the past.

    Sad, but those who wish to oppose any form of change will have to be made to suffer for the common good. No its probably not their fault that we are in this mess, but then for most of us out in the competitive world its not our fault either.

  9. John Hatch
    July 16, 2010

    I got round to applying for my bus pass a few days ago and I used it for the first time on Tuesday to go to the cocktail bar. It meant the first drink was effectively free; as no doubt the government intended! It tasted the better for it.
    However – irrespective of how unworthy a recipient I am – I was briefly irritated when I heard a report suggesting that my new bus pass might be withdrawn. Only on closer inspection did I discover there was no threat to me at all. JR is absolutely right to castigate the political ineptitude (or was it mischief?) of whoever floated the idea of cancelling bus passes for the elderly.

  10. Norman
    July 16, 2010

    I take it these are rhetorical questions.

    It is unfortunate that the 'cuts' (even though spending is increasing) are being equated with loss of front line services but there you have it.

    Although I am absolutely appalled at the idea of the NHS budget being ringfenced (although I – belatedly – notice reform is in the air for which praise is due) I'm wondering if this was a canny move by the PM. Imagine if the NHS had been 'cut', the headlines on the BBC whenever anyone died in hospital would make for grim reading. 'Tory cuts sent my grandfather to an early grave' 'Mother, 40, denied life saving drugs due to Tory cuts'

    It doesn't bear thinking about.

  11. DennisA
    July 16, 2010

    I'm sure this is straight from the annals of "Yes, Minister". Not bus passes exactly but I remember something similar, to thwart a policy by invoking something purely speculative, that would bring public outcry. Civil servants don't want any cuts, Sir Humphrey still looms large.

  12. john east
    July 16, 2010

    I found the report that the pensioner bus pass may be affected by the cuts extremely annoying. I remember having an argument with two of my socialist friends before the election who believed some New Labour spin that the bus pass would be scrapped if the Tories won. I assured them that maintaining the bus pass was a Tory pledge. However, I now realise that cutting the bus pass is just one of many proposals for consideration, so it is still unlikely to happen. However, if it does happen this is likely to be one of those events that stick in peoples mind for a long time to come. For example, do you remember the despicable slur, "Margaret Thatcher, milk snatcher"?

    The leaking of this bus pass story, following so soon behind Gove's education debacle, suggests to me that our civil service, most of whom probably voted New Labour in defence of their generous pensions and job security, need some urgent investigation before the coalition is more severely damaged by the "enemy within".

  13. FaustiesBlog
    July 16, 2010

    There's not an awful lot of new around, JR, and the lefties are still smarting at the partial restoration of civil liberties and the dismantling of their labyrinthine public sector.

    Hopefully, they're now feeling as useless as they are!

  14. manicbeancounter
    July 16, 2010

    A sad fact of government is that some of the civil servants ain't civil and serve other interests than the government of the day. This is particularly true when their livelihoods are threatened. One way is to release the rejected options of brainstorming sessions, as if they were given serious consideration. The result on previous governments was to shut down creative thinking. It sells papers, but does not encourage the best decision-making.
    The alternative is to look at back a few months. A daily deluge of politically acceptable, but badly thought-out policy initiatives that disappear once they have had the impact of filling the news bulletins for the day.
    Maybe we should be creative enough and find something helpful to fill the news for a few months whilst the serious work of saving the nation's finances is carried out. How about a Royal Commission on Hidden Liabilities. Plenty of high profile figures to sub-poena on the unintended consequences of taxing pensions, changing banking regulation, signing PFI contracts, taking over banks etc. Or maybe a just the odd one – who seems to have plenty spare time despite having a full-time elected post.

  15. Brian Tomkinson
    July 17, 2010

    This is another example of what I previously referred to concerning the evolving background to the essential work of beginning to bring our public finances under control. Despite all the media advisers they employ at our expense and their own backgrounds, often in public relations, they are failing to project clearly to the public what they are proposing to do and why it is so necessary. There are a number of explanations for this failure which go from incompetence through disinterest to active disinformation. Whichever it is, I wish they would begin to communicate in a direct and accurate manner and quickly before they find that they have lost the initiative.

  16. christina sarginson
    July 17, 2010

    One of the issues for us today is the complexity of government and in particular the compromises that both the conservatifve and lib dem parties are having to make. The uncertainty is difficult but as far as I can remember it always has been, issues such as the bus pass etc are potentially embarassing for David Cameron and this is why things are leaked. What the government should be working towards is being transparent, fair and accountable to the country and get on with this job in hand so we can see what the future holds.

  17. Steve
    July 17, 2010

    Personally I don't think the government is being anything like radical enough in its cuts. George Osborne had a perfect opportunity in this emergency budget, which he missed and which will probably never arise again, to start means testing ALL state benefits. It makes absolutely no sense that somebody with a fat, index-linked pension should get a free bus pass. Ditto for the winter heating allowance. Ditto free TV licences for the over-75's. And a major ditto to child benefit. If ALL benefits were to be means tested, the necessary information on personal means could be kept in a single central organisation, probably a part of HMRC as they would already have much of the necessary information. Instead of seizing this golden opportunity, the ConDems have blown it and we are left with the unpleasant spectacle of yet more fat snouts snuffling in the state trough for whatever they can get, regardless of how well-off they already are.

    1. Alan Jutson
      July 17, 2010

      The problem with means testing Steve is that those who have no job, income or savings, get everything, so why work.

      Those who have a job perhaps low paid, a small amount of savings (trying to be responsible and live within their means) will get no help at all.

      Result: Why bother to work save and live within your means.

    2. James Clover
      July 17, 2010

      Steve, I have some sympathy with the idea that, in times of need, it is foolish to give well-heeled people state handouts which they really don't need.
      However, I also dislike the idea, that the person with a small private pension or savings should miss out on benefits that are given to someone who has not provided for their future.
      It's a difficult moral/financial balancing act.

    3. ken / glos
      July 18, 2010

      I have two pensions, a final salary and an old age pension. Both now put me in the top ten per cent of earners in this country. I get a bus pass, a winter fuel allowance i dont pay N.I.C,s together with other perks. It is madness to give me all of these allowances. !! Means test me ! end of story.

      It is the only fair thing to do.

  18. backofanenvelope
    July 17, 2010

    How about some localism with regard to bus passes? In Cornwall the scheme costs more because of the emmetts. Why not allow the county council to impose a charge – say 50p or a pound per trip. Not just for the emmetts but for all bus pass users. I am one of them by the way.

  19. Jane
    July 17, 2010

    I have a bus pass which I have never used. I stll have my own car and will only use a bus pass when I am unable to drive. It is wrong as people work for longer that fuel allowance, Christmas bonus and bus passes are granted at aged 60 years. I would have thought that bus passes should be provided for those aged 70 years or over together with those unable to drive for health reasons. I also feel that the winter fuel allowance should only be granted to those on pension credit. This would save a fortune and do away with all these additional payments. I would have preferred the 10p tax band to have remained as the removal (even after adjustments) left me £100 a year worse off and very angry. However, after supporting the labour party for all of my life, the 10p tax band error, the poor leadership of the party, the denial of the need for cuts, the lack of strategy, the disgraceful class warfare and the thugs around the former PM, meant that I voted Conservative!!! I like David Cameron and am enjoying coalition government.

  20. Andrew Johnson
    July 17, 2010

    Mrs Johnson and I visited the Imperial war Museum today, absolutely packed by the way. My word, those ladies and gentlemen (WW1 & 2) at the ministry of propaganda knew a thing or two. To all posters pleading for clear statements from the Coalition. How's this for a model? Poster of men digging and planting potatoes while children and women watch with joy on their faces. Caption – "Dig or Die!" Keep telling it how it is John, until your colleagues do get it. Pass on to them what one boss said to me, "Less Daily Telegraph editorial and more Sun headline writer please!" Oh yes, and discover the names of those who are leaking. Threaten them with President Obama or something, I understand he's an expert on leaks!

    1. Alan Jutson
      July 18, 2010


      Yes we went to Imperial War Museum ourselves last year. An Excellent day out, and its free.

      I agree entirely about the Government posters of the time of which you give an example, SImple, Clear, Concise and Understandable.

      Careless talk costs lives.
      Dig for Victory.

      And many, many more.

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