Funding for Northern Ireland community transport bus services extended until June

Organisers of one bus service in Ballynahinch told UTV it was at risk of closure if further funding was not received. Credit: UTV

Funding for community bus services in Northern Ireland has been extended until the end of June.

The services were under threat and could have been stopped at the end of April because Stormont was unable to set a budget due to the lack of an Executive.

However, the Department for Infrastructure has confirmed that its Permanent Secretary, Julie Harrison, has given the go ahead for the money to be delivered.

The Rural Community Transport Partnerships runs 'Dial-a-Lift' services across Northern Ireland, making over 200,000 journeys every year.

UTV spoke to organisers of one initiative in Ballynahinch who said the service could be lost completely if further funding was not secured.

In a letter seen by UTV, a spokesperson for the DfI said: “The department recognises the important contribution community transport makes, complementing 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. To minimise uncertainty and operational difficulties, a funding commitment was given to community transport providers for April 2023.

"In doing so, the department had expected that a budget for 2023-24 would have been confirmed by 31 March 2023. Unfortunately this has not happened and therefore, given the continuing uncertainty arising from the absence of a budget allocation, community transport providers have been notified that their funding has now been extended to 30 June 2023.

"It is expected that funding decisions for the remainder of the year will be subject to the budget provided to DfI for 2023/24, when that is confirmed.”

Our report before the funding extension was announced.

DfI provides £2.2m in funding for 'Dial-a-Lift' services every year.

The Community Transport Association (CTA) said it was 'delighted' to receive notice that further funding will be provided.

"The news of funding extension comes as a relief to the communities that rely on community transport services, especially in rural areas where public transport is limited or non-existent," a spokesperson said.

"CTA is certain this is a positive step towards ensuring that community transport continues to serve those who need it the most."

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