Community Transport Groups Left Dangling By DfI

Community Transport Groups Face Cliff Edge Over Funding At End Of April

Community Transport Groups Face Cliff Edge Over Funding At End Of April

Alliance Party MLAs Kellie Armstrong and Andrew Muir have hit out at the Department for Infrastructure’s decision to extend funding for community transport by just one month.

Mrs Armstrong said: “The one-month extension causes real difficulties, not only in operating a service, but it also means organisations will have to extend redundancy notices.

“Usually, staff know funding is a perennial issue and carry on working.

“Many have continued to be employed, knowing the annual letter of offer will eventually arrive.

“This one-month offer is unusual in that DfI are providing grant provision into the next financial year for one month.

Down Community Transport like many other community transport services across Northern Ireland faces an uncertain future as their funding from the Department of Infrastructure lasts up until the end of April and the Department has yet made no decision about future budgets.

“If this year’s budget is not agreed upon, what information is DfI using to inform its funding decisions? What implications exist for the Department to meet its statutory requirements for rural transport?”

Andrew Muir said: “This is a serious matter. I have written to Julie Harrison, the Department’s Permanent Secretary, to enquire about the Department’s exact budget position.

“How the affected organisations are meant to plan services living from hand to mouth is unacceptable, and will cause undue stress for our most vulnerable rural citizens.

“The Department must find a way to give clarity to rural service providers.”

Joanne Trainor of Down Community Transport based at the Down Business Centre in Downpatrick said: “Down Community Transport extends across much of Down up to the Ards area.

“We also service people needing to go to the Ards Community Hospital and the Ulster Hospital from the Ards area.

“We have been told by the DfI that our funding is in place until the end of April.

“Come the first of May we do not know where we will be. It is all up in the air at the moment.

“Our year ends in March but we have that extension for a month.

“Many of our clients are rurally isolated and depend on us to get to health centres, GPs, and hospitals. For the elderly especially this will have very serious implications.

“Some of our clients would be forced to remain at home and not see other people for day if not weeks on end.

“It is heart-breaking to see this development, especially when our ambulances are very much tied up waiting at Emergency Departments.

“We are deeply concerned as are all community transport organisation across Northern Ireland,” added Joanne Trainor.

A spokesperson for the Department of Infrastructure (DfI) said:  “The Department recognises the important contribution community transport makes.

“It complements the wider public transport network, helping connect communities and ensuring that some of the most vulnerable people in our society are able to access essential local services and more actively participate in society.

“The Department also understands the impact it would have on the workforce and users if funding for this scheme was to stop.

“Although budgets have not been confirmed for 2023-24, the financial outlook is likely to be very challenging and require extremely difficult decisions.

“Despite this, to minimise uncertainty and operational difficulties, a funding commitment has been given to community transport providers for April 2023. 

“No final decisions have been made on funding allocations for 2023-24 and further decisions for the remainder of the year will be subject to the budget outcome.”