Council leaders are warning that, unless government addresses this widening gap in the Spending Review, vulnerable residents could be left isolated and unsupported, particularly those in rural areas.
The National Concessionary Travel Scheme is a statutory duty administered by councils, that are increasingly having to fill the gap between the cost and government funding for the scheme with their own limited resources.
To try to do this, councils have been forced to reduce spending on supported bus services, which is now £122 million less than 2010 – a reduction of 33 per cent.
Currently, nearly half of all bus routes in England receive partial or complete subsidies from councils and are under threat.
The LGA is warning that the underfunding of subsidised bus routes, coupled with councils facing an overall funding gap of £3.1 billion in 2019/20, means that local authorities will struggle to maintain current subsidies for bus routes which will continue to fall unless they are given the funding to protect them.
Cllr Martin Tett, the LGA’s Transport spokesman, said: “Local authorities want to protect the bus services that are a vital service for our communities and a lifeline for our most vulnerable residents to go shopping, pick up medication, attend doctor appointments or socialise with friends and family.
“But, because of significant funding pressures and the underfunding of the national free bus pass scheme, councils have been forced to reduce or scale back these services and review subsidised routes, and even reduce spending on other vital services to plug the gap.
“Properly funding the national free bus pass scheme is essential if the Government wants councils to be able to maintain our essential bus services, reduce congestion and protect vital routes. If this is not addressed in the Spending Review it could lead to older people having a free bus pass but no bus to travel on.”