‘Bespoke package’ to support Northern Ireland coach industry

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The coach and private bus industry in Northern Ireland will be among the beneficiaries of a “bespoke package to provide financial assistance,” the Northern Ireland Executive has announced.

It has not yet been confirmed what form that help will take and whether it will involve grants. First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill have written to Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon setting out the Determination and Designation under the Financial Assistance (Northern Ireland) Act 2009. That enables the Department for Infrastructure to take forward an assistance package.

Northern Ireland coach industry support to be ‘developed urgently’

The funding package will be “developed urgently,” says the Executive. It will complement existing schemes that provide support to other sectors impacted by the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

Says Mrs Foster: “COVID-19 has had an enormously damaging impact on all sectors of business and services. The operators of taxis, private buses and coaches have faced a significant reduction in demand for their services, yet their overheads have continued.

“It is absolutely right that they should be able to avail of financial assistance to sustain them through this difficult time. I hope that they will take some comfort in the knowledge that support will be forthcoming.”

Adds Mrs O’Neill: “The Executive is committed to providing all possible support to businesses and workers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The taxi, private bus and coach sectors have been negatively impacted through loss of earnings. Many have shouldered the cost of implementing safety measures.

“I am pleased that the Executive’s support schemes will soon include a bespoke funding package to alleviate the hardship being faced by workers in these sectors.”

In June, over 30 coach operators in Northern Ireland gathered at Stormont calling on the Executive to support them.

Support package for England, Scotland and Wales still missing

While the coach industry in Northern Ireland now looks set to benefit from sector-specific support, there is still no news on the same for operators in England, Scotland and Wales despite increasing awareness among Westminster frontbenchers of the industry’s ongoing plight.

In a letter to the Confederation of Passenger Transport on 21 October, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Steve Barclay gave no indication that any bespoke funding is planned. But Mr Barclay notes that Department for Transport officials are in contact with the Treasury and “will continue to provide updates as the situation develops.”