OUR latest Councillor Column comes from Cllr Graham Hardie (Liberal Democrat, Helensburgh Central).

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PART of my work as Argyll and Bute Council’s representative at the Strathclyde Partnership for Transport is oversight, with my colleagues, of the Strathclyde Concessionary Travel Scheme (SCTS).

This offers discounted travel to National Entitlement Card holders across Strathclyde on rail, Glasgow Subway and on ferry routes for island and peninsula residents.

Helensburgh’s rail stations serve as the primary connection point for rail journeys to Oban and Glasgow, and account for 80 per cent of the Argyll and Bute area’s SCTS journeys – though not all are made by Argyll and Bute residents.

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The primary objective of the scheme is to allow older and disabled people improved access to services, facilities and social networks within the scheme boundary, and so promote greater social inclusion and equality. It’s funded entirely out of local authority budgets, with contributions from all 12 councils that are members of the scheme, and gives a basic concessionary fare of £1 single and £1.50 return – though other fares apply for certain longer-distance rail and ferry routes.

A Joint Committee, with one elected representative from each member council, including myself, meets twice a year to make all decisions on the operation of the scheme, including routes and fares.

We know there is strong and rising demand for the scheme, with more than five million journeys made every year – and a 12 per cent increase in the number of journeys made over the last decade.

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However, a series of recent reports presented to the committee by SPT officials highlight the serious financial pressures currently being placed upon the SCTS. The most important point highlighted in these reports is that the scheme, in its current form, is not financially sustainable, with only one or two years’ worth of funding remaining.

In view of those funding pressures, the joint committee agreed in March 2020 that a review of the SCTS was needed, and should be carried out – with a specific focus on exploring ways to ensure the scheme is financially sustainable in future.

The review got under way in June of last year and is being managed by SPT on behalf of the joint committee. The review is expected to conclude in the spring or summer of this year, and the findings will be reported to a future meeting of the committee.

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