Eligible private coach and bus operators in Northern Ireland may benefit from further financial assistance after Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon sought approval to open an additional round of support for them.
Ms Mallon has written to colleagues at the Northern Ireland Executive asking for a further Determination and Designation under the Financial Assistance (Northern Ireland) Act 2009 to secure the necessary funding. If approved, it will be delivered to the sector in a format that has yet to be decided but which will be “broadly similar” to earlier grant streams.
Ms Mallon acknowledges that COVID-19 continues to create difficult trading conditions for many companies, not least private coach and bus operators. “I have listened [to] and examined the evidence provided by the sector and I am of the view that some businesses have demonstrated a justifiable need for further government support,” she says.
“I have written to my Executive colleagues to request the powers to make the case for a further support scheme. I intend to engage with them in the coming days on both the rationale for the exceptional circumstances and the necessary funding for such a scheme.”
Details of how any further support mechanism will be structured cannot be provided until the revised legislation has been passed by the Northern Ireland Assembly, a Department for Infrastructure spokesperson says. However, Ms Mallon has put on record that if approved, it will be “broadly similar” to previous rounds. They utilised a per-vehicle calculation method.
In March 2021, Ms Mallon told the Northern Ireland Assembly that 140 “valid” applications had been received from private coach and bus operator to the first financial assistance scheme. It was established to provide funding only where losses were incurred, and thus the main reason for at least 40 of those submissions to have been judged ineligible was that a profit was still being returned, she explained.
At the same time, Ms Mallon acknowledged that the first round of support had encountered problems. It was suggested elsewhere that the application process invoked unwelcome costs for operators. She added that industry feedback had been taken on before the second round, which saw the previous £100,000 cap per eligible operator removed.