Translink’s cash reserves are set to fall below minimum levels before the end of March, it has emerged, sparking fears over the future of Northern Ireland’s public transport provider.
In response to a written Assembly question from Alliance MLA Andrew Muir, Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon said the impact of the Covid pandemic and other pressures have hit Translink’s finances.
She said she has engaged with other ministers over the company’s “future financial stability” and Translink’s cash reserves are currently at a level allowing it to meet daily financial obligations because DfI has put in place measures to keep reserves above a “minimum independently-assessed threshold”.
“However, these reserves are projected to reach the minimum threshold by the end of this financial year not least due to the impact of current lockdown restrictions,” she added.
Mr Muir said action needs to be taken to ensure Translink’s very survival.
The public transport provider’s consolidated losses for the 2019/20 financial year – before tax, pension adjustments and other costs – was £23.2m. That compares to £1.1m profit for the previous year, according to it’s latest accounts.
Back in April 2020, Translink chief executive Chris Conway told Stormont’s Infrastructure Committee it needed a £100m injection of funds to continue providing a public transport network following a 90% drop in passenger numbers.
Concern: Nichola Mallon
In her written answer to Mr Muir, Ms Mallon said: “I have taken action throughout my time as minister to underline my commitment and I have instructed my officials to explore ways to ensure that my department continues to meet its obligations to Translink’s financial viability under the current Public Service Agreement.”
She said this work is ongoing but has resulted in £90m Covid-19 mitigation funding being provided to support public transport services throughout the pandemic.
In response, Mr Muir said Translink’s finances were in a “precarious state” before the Covid outbreak and continue to be under “real, serious pressure”.
“We need further clarity from the minister as to whether more money is needed this financial year, as we know the Executive is sitting on £430m,” he said.
Ulster Unionist infrastructure spokesperson Roy Beggs MLA echoed Mr Muir’s view that some unspent Covid support funding could be used to help Translink.
A Translink spokesperson said the company continues to support communities throughout the pandemic, operating essential bus and train services.
“The economic impact of Covid-19 has left public transport globally in a very challenging funding situation and similar to interventions in GB, the Republic of Ireland and across Europe, Translink has welcomed additional emergency Covid-19 funding from the Northern Ireland Executive and the Department for Infrastructure which has allowed us to maintain our financial position for this year,” they said.
The spokesperson added that Translink is continuing to work with DfI to secure funding through the 2021/22 budget to maintain and enhance the network.
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