THE revelations that nearly a third of all bus journeys taken in Yorkshire are free concessions and cost the taxpayer £100m, will no doubt raise a few eyebrows.
In North Yorkshire the figure is even higher with these concessionary fares for the elderly and disabled accounting for nearly half of all journeys. On the face of it this sounds like an awful lot of money to be spending on subsidised bus fares with critics arguing the numbers simply don’t stack up at a time of major spending cuts.
However, the biggest concern is that the elderly and vulnerable will be left in a situation where they have a free bus pass – but no bus to travel on. As Coun John Blackie, North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) member for Hawes, points out, this undermines the whole point of having such a scheme.
But something has to be done. Local bus services are an essential lifeline for many elderly, vulnerable and disabled people – particularly those living in more rural areas – giving them a degree of independence without which they would be at risk of becoming more socially isolated which can, in turn, lead to other health problems.
At the moment it is local authorities that are left with a funding black hole, which is why the Local Government Authority is right to call on the Government to stump up more funds and prevent local services being lost.
Many of those eligible for free bus fares have worked hard their entire lives and paid their taxes. At a time when living costs are going up and interest rates are at a record low, hitting the pockets of many elderly people, this is something they can ill-afford to lose.
But there is something else more fundamental at stake here. Surely any civilised society ought to be able to provide these vital public services for the elderly and vulnerable, otherwise what does it say about us as a nation?
Olympic Spirit - time to get behind the Rio Games
HAS there ever been a more troubled Olympic Games? The build-up to Rio 2016 has been dominated by concerns over the Zika virus and the ramshackle preparations concerning the city’s security, infrastructure and venues – set against a backdrop of political and economic turmoil.
Most damaging by far, however, has been the Russian doping scandal which has not only cast a huge shadow over the 31st Summer Games but undermined the Olympic movement and its Corinthian principles of hope, peace and unity through sport. This was compounded by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) which had the opportunity to send out a clear message about cheating, only to pass the buck to the governing bodies of individual sports.
If the IOC wants to use the Olympics to help shine a light into the darkest corners of the world then it must deal with this toxic issue once and for all.
In the meantime, though, it is time to concentrate on what must be hoped will be two weeks of trouble-free sport. For all the controversies that have engulfed these Games, the Olympics can be a much-needed tonic as we saw so powerfully during London 2012 – hailed by many as the greatest ever Games.
As the action gets under way this weekend it is worth remembering that the vast majority of athletes competing are ‘clean’. Many will have trained for years, making huge sacrifices along the way, just for this one moment which will live with them forever.
The Olympics is an unrivalled gathering of humanity that has a unique ability to inspire people. For all its faults it remains the greatest show on Earth and we wish Rio de Janeiro well.
Leeds Building Society growth
AT a time of volatility in the financial markets and gloomy economic forecasts following the vote to leave the EU, the news that Leeds Building Society has reported its fifth successive year of growth is a welcome boost.
Its growth has been underpinned by high levels of mortgage lending that has helped almost 4,000 first time buyers onto the property ladder in the first six months of the year. The firm continues to go from strength to strength having hired 140 people this year to take their headcount to a record level.
Contrast this with the woes of Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) which this week reported a £2bn loss for the first half of the year after racking up huge payment protection insurance costs. Leeds Building Society has not only shown that there is still a place for community-based banks committed to sensible lending, it has proved itself to be a great Yorkshire success story.