Belfast Telegraph

Don't panic... this firm is too good to roll over

By John Simpson

Crisis headlines suggesting a major collapse in public services or even the liquidation of the companies within the Translink umbrella are neither helpful nor appropriate.

Yes, there are big-budget problems for each of the Translink operating companies but the best answers to these problems call for more than a panic performance.

One easy denial can and should be made: Translink will not go out of business. The Translink Group will either have to improve its own finances by raising more revenue or cutting costs or both.

Alternatively, Translink might ask the minister and, through him, the Executive for extra funds. But this year, more than any earlier year, the Executive is 'skint'.

Translink's business might be sub-divided and commercial operators invited to tender competitively for selected routes.

Translink has been a heavily subsidised organisation by offsetting capital costs for buses and railway services. The impact of this type of financial support is obscured in the conventional accounts.

For Northern Ireland Railways, the balance between fares, revenue support and capital subsidies have given fare-paying passengers an attractive deal.

There is an emerging argument that railway fares should now carry a higher proportion of the revenue. New trains are in place and should earn a better return for the taxpayer who originally paid for the trains.

For Metro and Ulsterbus services, scope must be sought to find methods either to reduce costs and/or services or to allow commercial operators to enter the licensed arena. From other parts of GB and Ireland there are alternative systems which point to different forms of commercial restructuring.

It is up to Translink to help the minister devise a sustainable solution.

John Simpson is an economist

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