Salaries paid to senior officials at Translink have been described as unacceptable.
The chairman of Stormont’s regional development committee, which is investigating public transport here, has hit out at the salaries as anger grows over fare rises announced this week.
The DUP’s Jimmy Spratt was speaking ahead of the price hikes of up to 8% on bus, train and coach services that are due to come into effect in May.
Annual accounts show that Translink boss Catherine Mason — Northern Ireland’s highest paid public sector official — earns £199,000.
That’s substantially more than Prime Minster David Cameron, who earns £142,000, and First Minister Peter Robinson, who earns around £114,000.
Last year it also emerged that six out of eight senior employees earn £100,000, while some bosses are entitled to car allowances worth £9,000 on top of their six-figure salaries.
Mr Spratt said there were issues surrounding wages being paid to staff in a company which has just announced it’s putting up its prices.
“The salaries are absolutely scandalous for a company the size of Translink,” Mr Spratt said.
“Particularly when the committee can't get open and transparent answers from them. They put up defence barriers every time.”
A number of commuters have told the Belfast Telegraph that the services offered by Translink often fall short of their expectations.
Complaints have included reduced services on bank holidays and in rural areas, as well as the high cost of travel in Northern Ireland.
The price hikes also come at a time when the Northern Ireland Executive is encouraging people to use public transport instead of cars.
As one commuter pointed out, it costs €4 (£3.37) for a one-day travel card in Luxembourg for buses and trains, whereas it’s £1.80 (rising to £1.90) to take the bus from the Ormeau Road into Belfast city centre.
Mr Spratt also criticised Translink for what he claimed was a lack of financial transparency.
“Last year they said there was going to be a deficit over three years of £17m.
“Now this year, all of a sudden, a £5.8m profit appeared,” he said.
“What they're saying is that this £5.8m is as a result of the increased passenger footfall last year and they’re now showing a profit.
“What is not taken into consideration is that the Department for Regional Development bailed them out to the tune of over £7m.”
A Translink spokeswoman said the £5.8m, which was unveiled at a committee meeting this week, was due to the popularity of its services.
She also defended Translink’s performance.
“Translink has had a very successful past 12 months with passenger numbers growing strongly,” she said.
“Translink is carrying forward profits earned in 2012-13 to keep fares as low as possible in 2013-14; this is the reserve referred to.”
Mr Spratt said the committee had recently launched an inquiry into the entire transport system in Northern Ireland, including the structures around the Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company, which is also known as Translink.
“We must have total transparency; if you are increasing fares at the present time and you are getting substantial grants from the public purse, you have got to explain to the public why you have had to do that and why you can’t manage it better,” he said.
Last year Translink received almost £130m in subsidies from Stormont.
The massive sum — paid for by taxpayers — includes £68.3m for buses and re-laying the railway track, a £23.2m grant for providing its services and £35.4m for non-paying passengers, such as pensioners.
Ukip MLA David McNarry said he would like to see an accountancy-led inquiry into Translink's operations and its relationship with the Department for Regional Development.
Meanwhile, taxpayers shell out nearly £130m |in a year just to keep the company running
By Claire McNeilly
Taxpayers ploughed almost £130m into Translink in the last financial year, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
The company’s accounts show that the public transport provider received the money from Stormont between April 2011 and March 2012.
The huge amount includes £68.3m for buses and re-laying the railway track between Coleraine and Londonderry, a £23.2m public service obligation (or fee for providing the service), and £35.4m for non-paying passengers, such as pensioners.
Despite the £126.9m investment from the public purse, consumers have been told that fares on buses, trains and coaches are going up by up to 8% on some services.
The news has provoked outrage among hard-pressed consumers who are struggling to make ends meet in the current economic climate.
DUP MLA Jimmy Spratt said it also sits uncomfortably alongside the salaries that are being paid to senior members of staff.
Translink boss Catherine Mason — who is Northern Ireland’s highest paid public sector official — now earns £199,000, up £1,000 from 2011.
The company’s chief operating officer Philip O’Neill has a salary package totalling £156,000, while its chairman, John Trethowan, took home £38,000 last year.
There are also six non-executive directors on the board of the Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company, which is also known as Translink.
Six of them get paid up to £10,000 a year, according to the company accounts, one earns up to £15,000, and another gets up to £5,000.
That represents a reduction in pay for five out of six non-executive directors, as they all earned up to £15,000 in 2011.
Meanwhile, the revenue raised by the company via passengers in the year up to March 2012 was £188m.
Economist John Simpson said Translink, which is a public service funded by the Northern Ireland Executive, should be subject to tighter commercial disciplines.
“The company needs to be more transparent because it’s the lack of transparency that feeds the suspicion between the politicians and senior executives at Translink,” he said.
Last year Ms Mason was criticised for skipping a Stormont committee meeting about a 24% wage hike for train drivers. Translink said she was honouring a family commitment, but it was later claimed by Mr Spratt, who is chair of the regional development committee, that she had been attending the Olympics.
Mr Spratt — who rearranged cancer treatment to be at the original committee meeting in August — referred to her London visit when she finally appeared before MLAs last October.