The benefits of free bus passes for Greater Manchester teenagers will ‘dwarf the costs’ of the flagship scheme, according to Andy Burnham.
A key part of the mayor’s manifesto, the travel cards – named ‘Our Pass’ – are now available for 16 to 18-year olds across the city-region and can be used from September.
GM-based sports-clothing firm JD were announced as a main sponsor at a launch event on Monday, contributing what is said to be a ‘substantial’ six-figure sum.
Mr Burnham said the ‘life-changing’ passes, earmarked to cost around £9m for this year, are ‘the most tangible example of devolution making a difference’.
And with JD having been subject to recent union concerns about working conditions, he revealed the firm has agreed to support the GM Good Employment Charter.
Addressing the launch event at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall, Mr Burnham said: “I was in parliament for a number of years and what I saw there sadly too often was Westminster making young people the target of cuts and negative publicity.
“I want this to send a very simple message to every single young person growing up in GM, I want to say to them that we believe in you, all of you, we’re going to back you, we’re going to help you make your way in the world.”
In addition to the bus travel, the passes – which will cost individuals a one-off £10 administration fee – will provide free or discounted access to cultural venues and work-related ‘experience days’.
Combined authority bosses signed off a £9.3m budget earlier this year, a majority of which is earmarked as compensation for bus operators as part of the concessionary scheme.
A further £1m for ‘delivery and operational’ costs was approved by the GMCA last week, with the mayor utilising an underspend in a pot from the Department for Transport normally used to subsidise bus routes.
The sponsorship cash will help offset these costs, bosses have said, although the exact amount of JD’s contribution has not been revealed.
Mr Burnham said efforts remain ongoing to attract further sponsors and partners to the scheme and discussions continue with local colleges, who already spend money on bus passes, about a pooled contribution.
He said: “We’re going to work really hard to make sure the call on public funds or council taxes is as low as we can possibly make it.
“The reality is we don’t know what the cost will be because we don’t know how many will sign up and we don’t know what use they will make of the pass. The two-year pilot will give us a clear picture of what those costs are.
“In some ways it is an innovative way of funding things but young people’s lives can’t be put on hold, they’re making decisions now.”
Bury-based JD will provide lanyards and wallets for Our Pass holders, it was revealed on Monday.
Earlier this year the company was slammed by union Unite over working conditions in its Rochdale warehouse after figures showed a rise in ambulance call-outs.
A spokesperson had said given the scale of its operations, the number of incidents requiring ambulances was ‘proportionally very low’ and not all call-outs are ‘related to workplace incidents’.
Mr Burnham told the LDRS on Monday: “They are a long-standing GM company who employ a lot of people here and a lot of people here are their customers, they’re a long-standing brand.
“We consulted with the trade unions about this and the good news is JD has decided to become a supporter of the GM Good Employment Charter…I think that’s to their credit.
“We will keep things under review, of course we will, it’s the start of a journey for all of us. We would want the organisations connected with it to treat people properly in terms of work and standards in the workplace.”
Stephen White, JD Group director, said: “JD is proud to be partnering with the Our Pass pilot to make a significant difference to the lives of 16-18-year olds in Greater Manchester.
“The freedom to move, the opportunity to explore and the ability to support work and learning for this age group is vital for local employers like JD.”
Young people can apply for their travel passes from ourpass.co.uk
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