FREE bus travel is being extended to more people in Inverclyde and a senior councillor claims it will save around 40 local jobs.

The Scottish Government has announced that its concessionary scheme will now include companions of eligible disabled children under the age of five.

It is estimated that some 3,000 families and young people across the country will benefit and Councillor Chris McEleny, Inverclyde Council SNP group leader, says this will safeguard the jobs of around 40 local drivers.

The government has also announced that the age of eligibility for a bus pass, currently 60, will remain unchanged and says the idea of rolling out the scheme to modern apprentices is being considered.

Mr McEleny said: "If the scheme wasn't there, I'm in no doubt it would have an adverse impact on buses, whether that would mean cancelling routes, making people redundant or both.

"The free bus pass keeps over-60s connected, it keeps people healthy and it helps support older people financially.

"It's likely that around 40 bus drivers' jobs are protected in Inverclyde thanks to the free bus pass.

"This is a very welcome decision by the Scottish Government."

The extension follows a consultation exercise late last year in which two-thirds of the 3,000 people to respond backed the idea.

Scottish transport secretary Michael Matheson said: "At a time when we are investing and encouraging more people to use Scotland's many excellent bus services, this government will do all it can to ensure as many people as possible consider the many benefits of bus travel.

"The £250 million we spend every year on the bus pass and support for services is a substantial part of this effort."