Darlington Tories are trying every trick in the book to keep the issue of free travel for pensioners in the public eye - even resorting (a bit desperately, I thought) to a convoluted story in the Echo recently about how Gordon Brown was somehow to blame for the recent hike in world oil prices recently.
Because, as you know, I have way too much time on my hands, I thought I'd do an internet survey to see how other local authorities across the country are responding to this issue. Remember, the Government brought in a national scheme which funded councils to provide free off-peak travel (i.e. after 9.30am and before 11.30pm Monday to Friday, and all day at the weekend) for pensioners and disabled people anywhere in the country on local services.
I looked at the internet sites of 100 borough and district councils in the east, south-east and south of England across 11 counties (East Sussex, Surrey, Kent, Essex, Norfolk, Suffolk, West Sussex, Hampshire, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall). Given the high proportion of pensioners who live in many of these areas, I thought that these councils' response to the issue would be especially interesting. Most now, of course are Tory-run, with some in No Overall Control and a smattering in the hands of the LibDems or independents. This is what I found;
Over half (54) have adopted the Government minimum scheme, a version of which we have here in Darlington (we allow free late travel Monday to Friday).
13 allow free travel after 9am, 7 after 8.30am and just over a quarter (26) have gone for the free 24/7 scheme.
So what does this tell us? Well, it would appear that Darlington's approach is mirrored by the majority of councils in the country. Like Darlington, they too are juggling budgetary pressures, as they strive to provide value-for-money services which meet the needs of their residents.
Darlington, then, is not only far from unique in its approach to concessionary travel - it is very much in the mainstream. Maybe press coverage in the future might reflect that fact.