Cumbria County Council should be compensated for all the wealthy pensioners from outside the region who enjoy “free” bus travel at the local taxpayers’ expense, a leading councillor has claimed.

Peter Thornton, the authority’s deputy leader, made the calls as he discussed the draft concessionary travel scheme due to be rolled out across the county from April.

Last year, Cumbria and the Lake District received over 47 million visitors, some of whom will have been pensioners making use of concessionary travel offers available on council-funded bus services.

Mr Thornton, who is also the cabinet member for finance, said that more people were coming into Cumbria to use its buses than Cumbrians were travelling elsewhere to use services funded by other local authorities.

He claimed that this put the authority at a “disadvantage” and called on the Government to recognise this in funding allocations.

“I mentioned earlier the extra costs that rural authorities have to meet, and if you’re a rural authority that’s also a tourist destination, this puts a huge extra cost on there,” he said.

He described it as “fair enough” that Cumbrian pensioners were given concessionary travel paid for from their council tax. But he added that they were also subsidising concessions for visitors from areas such as Manchester and Birmingham to travel around Cumbria.

He said: “To be fair, if I travelled somewhere else outside Cumbria, it works the other way around, but clearly we have more people coming into Cumbria and using our bus services than we have Cumbrians going out and using other people’s bus services.

“So, this is quite a large disadvantage to us here, and we have to pay the cost of wealthy pensioners coming to Cumbria and running around on our buses.

“Obviously we welcome them, but the Government really needs to reflect this in its funding settlement, and there needs to be something built in to compensate areas such as Cumbria for these extra costs.”

Keith Little, cabinet member for highways and transport, agreed that Mr Thornton’s point was “well-made”.

But he added that these “rich pensioners” coming into Cumbria were spending an “awful lot of money” with local traders, helping to sustain the economy and rural industries.

Concessionary travel plans, in the statutory consultation phrase, are discussed annually by the county council.

A mandatory national bus concession for older and disabled people has been in place since 2001. This has gradually been extended since its introduction and since April 2008 has provided free off-peak bus travel to eligible older people and the disabled.

The same reimbursement rate as last year – 58 per cent – has been included as part of the draft plans.