Increase in transport charges part of LCR Combined Authority’s proposed budget

CGI of proposed new Merseyrail trains

Liverpool City Region Combined Authority is proposing a one-off admin charge on concessionary travel passes in a bid to bolster its finances in the face of the pandemic.

Expected to be no more than £10, it will, however, allay fears over recent reports that the Government is considering withdrawing concessionary travel for anyone under the age of 66. Liverpool City Region residents can apply for travel passes from 60 years of age.

The move is in addition to proposals to raise Mersey Tunnel tolls, as announced on January 6, and is included in the latest budget proposals.

The combined authority will be asked to approve its budget for 2022/23 at its meeting on January 21, 2022.

Detailing its spending for the year ahead, the combined authority says the budget is focused on delivering mayoral priorities, with an emphasis on securing the city region’s economic recovery by prioritising investment in transport, infrastructure, skills and environment.

The budget proposals include an ambitious £241m capital funding programme, including completion of the procurement of a brand new £460m fleet of trains, as part of Mayor Steve Rotheram’s plans to introduce a London-style transport system.

However, the fleet, which will be owned by the authority, is running behind its scheduled introduction, with test journeys still taking place on the Merseyrail network.

The budget also details investment to progress the programme for bus reform, publishing a Bus Services Improvement Plan, outlining ambitious plans to provide services that are more frequent, reliable, and affordable.

And it includes ongoing investment in infrastructure projects that will help boost economic recovery, including LCR Connect, which is creating a 212km ultrafast digital network for the city region, COVID recovery initiatives, such as the next stage of the Future Innovation Fund, and flagship schemes such as the Shakespeare North Playhouse.

The importance of skills in the city region’s economic recovery is reflected in a focus on adult education, which sets out the combined authority’s priorities for the coming year, ensuring that all of the city region’s residents have the opportunity to develop the skills they need.

Included in the document is a proposal to freeze the mayoral precept for the third year in a row.

The impact of COVID-19 on the city region’s finances, however, means that modest increases are proposed to the Transport Levy paid by the region’s six local authorities, and to Mersey Tunnels tolls, as announced on January 6.

The decision to freeze the regional precept is intended to avoid putting extra short term financial pressure on residents who are struggling due to the COVID pandemic. Ninety five per cent of households in the city region will continue to pay no more than 32p a week.

The Transport Levy was frozen for 2021/22, however, higher inflation and demographic pressures mean that this position is not sustainable and a two per cent increase to the levy, from £97.4m to £99.35m is proposed.

The budget also includes a proposed increase to tunnel tolls for 2022/2023 with rates set to rise for the first time in five years, in response to increasing public sector budget pressures and increasing maintenance costs.

While there will still be a discount for Liverpool City Region residents using the Fast Tag or T-Flow prepayment systems, the cost of a single crossing is set to rise by 20p for car drivers from April 1, if the proposals are approved.

The budget paper also includes a proposal to introduce a one-off admin fee, expected to be no more than £10, for people applying for a concessionary travel pass. Residents in receipt of Universal Credit would be exempt from the fee.

The Merseytravel concessionary travel scheme is one of the most generous in the country and entitles Merseyside residents to free train and bus travel from the age of 60, seven years before passes are available under the national scheme.

Steve Rotheram, Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, said: “COVID-19 has had a huge impact on everyone’s finances over the past two years and the combined authority is not immune to that. The costs of keeping our region running, supporting the local economy through the worst of the pandemic and investing to kickstart our recovery have been significant and will continue to be felt for some time.

“The Government’s failure to deliver its promise of ‘whatever it takes’ in funding support has tied our hands financially. It means that difficult decisions need to be taken to keep vital public services running while also investing for the future.”

He added: “Over the last year-and-a-half we have provided more than £44m of support to over 4,000 businesses, keeping many afloat and safeguarding many, many thousands of local jobs. We distributed millions to small community groups who helped support their neighbours through the height of lockdown. We have funded transformative projects in every single part of our region – and launched a £150m COVID Recovery Fund to give the local economy a springboard to bounce back.

“Given the financial pressures the pandemic has forced on us – and the moral duty we have to tackle the climate emergency – we have been forced to make some difficult decisions.”

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