Cameron urged to 'come clean' over free bus passes

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Indy Politics

David Cameron was accused today of betraying his pledge to protect free bus passes for the elderly after it emerged that hundreds of thousands of pensioners could have to wait up to an extra five years before they are eligible.

Government sources insisted it was "extremely unlikely" the proposal to bring forward the raising of the qualification age from 60 to 65 would actually be implemented.

But Labour said ministers must now "come clean" and explain exactly what their plans were for concessionary bus travel.

Under the previous Labour government, the age at which both male and female pensioners are entitled to free bus passes was due to increase in line with the female retirement age, reaching 65 in 2020.

However, under one option for spending cuts drawn up by the Department for Transport (DfT), that process could be speeded up.

Like most Whitehall departments, the DfT has been instructed to come up with proposals for budget cuts of 25% and 40% over the next four years.

They will then form the basis of the negotiations between the Treasury and the departments leading to the spending review in the autumn.

It is understood that the DfT's 40% plan - being presented to the Treasury today - includes a proposal to bring forward the raising of the eligibility age for free bus passes.

The issue is particularly sensitive for Mr Cameron as during the general election campaign he dismissed Labour claims that the Conservatives would slash free bus travel as "pure and simple lies".

Downing Street sources insisted that they were not going back on the commitment. "The Prime Minister's pledge stands," one source said.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said that the Government was committed to protecting free bus travel for the elderly in line with the coalition agreement between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

"The position is as set out in the coalition agreement. We are committed to protecting free bus travel for older people," the spokesman said.

However shadow transport secretary Sadiq Khan accused Mr Cameron of betraying his election promises.

"David Cameron owes the public an apology today. His mock outrage during the general election campaign has been shown up as a cynical and misleading act, and his manifesto commitment to protecting concessionary fares as a sham," he said.

"This news will cause anxiety for hundreds of thousands who could be affected. Having misled them during the election campaign, David Cameron owes it to them to come clean now and confirm unequivocally what his plans are for free bus passes."