Department for Communities and Local Government Secretary, John Denham MP criticised the West Lancashire Borough Council during a House of Commons debate this week for “depriving pensioners, refus[ing] to give free swimming to under-16s and closing cash offices”. Denham said the Council’s policy of benefiting from concessionary travel while having built up a war chest of between £22 and £23 million was “a real shame”.
Secretary of State, John Denham MP stated: “I do not believe that there would be free bus travel for pensioners under the Conservatives. Even if adjustments in the formula have been proposed for the future, that reallocation was the right thing to do. As for a local authority that takes the benefit of that and does not plough it back in-that is a real shame.”
Rosie Cooper MP has supported West Lancashire Pensioners Forum’s calls for the Council to provide free travel provisions for the over 60s and disabled people. Wigan, St Helens, and Southport all currently have free programmes for pensioners. The group got a statement from the Council just last week stating simply that “there is no such thing as free travel.”
The Government introduced the £140 million initiative in April this year in order to get more young people active and participating in sport. 190 local authorities are offering free swimming for the under 16s during the summer months. Figures released from the first quarter show that over 2.8 million young people have taken advantage of the scheme. However, there are no plans at the moment for West Lancashire children to take advantage of these plans.
In January 2008, the council decided to close down most of the cash offices in West Lancashire, leaving many without reasonable alternatives. When asked about why the Council did not consult with residents first, West Lancashire Borough Council deputy leader stated “What do you think would have happened if we had consulted? The majority would have said no and then we would have been accused of not listening."
West Lancashire MP Rosie Cooper said: “I am extremely disappointed that the Council and the deputy-leader have sat on this much money when so many residents have expressed their desire for programmes that work. We owe it to our pensioners and young people to invest in their well being. The Council only seem to listen when they know they’ll receive an answer that they want. Why not listen for a change and use some of the money they’ve been withholding from West Lancashire residents?”
“I will continue to fight the good fight and support these causes until the Council finds some sense and implement these simple but important programmes.”