Trankslink gets £7m bailout, pushes up fares...and posts massive 65% profit rise
Fury has greeted the news that Translink has almost doubled its pre-tax profits just months after it imposed fare rises.
The public corporation, which received almost £150m from the Government last year, revealed in its annual report that its profits have jumped 97% from £6.5m in 2011/12 to £12.8m in 2012/13.
The figures came just two months after it imposed fare increases averaging 3% on buses and 5% on trains. When it deducts pension contributions, the figure for pre-tax profits is £9.1m.
That figure includes £4.3m that was gained from the sale of lands close to Great Victoria Street Station to Roads Service – but the remaining £4.8m is still an increase of 65% on the £2.9m made a year earlier. Of the £146m allocated to Translink in the past year, £79m was to supplement current revenue and £67m to pay for capital investment. DUP MLA Jimmy Spratt, chairman of the Assembly's Department for Regional Development committee, which scrutinises Translink, said the healthy profits by the company increased the argument for privatisation of the public transport system.
"If they could put it in the European Journal (in which tenders for the public sector are advertised) and nobody else is interested, then let them do it, but if Joe Bloggs in the private sector wants to apply and run it, then to me he should have the chance to decrease the reliance Translink has on the public purse," he said.
Last night Mr Spratt said he had not seen the 2012/13 figures, which were due to be sent to MLAs this morning, but said Translink had been invited to a meeting of the committee on July 10 to explain the accounts.
"It's scandalous and a slur on the committee that we have not seen these figures in advance," he added.
SDLP MLA John Dallat, also a member of the committee, said: "If there are profits then I can think of a million different things they can be invested in, such as replacing rolling stock on the Belfast to Dublin line, and on improving speeds between Belfast and Derry to give people a powerful attraction to take the train. The committee is very keen to learn more about the complexities of how Translink present their accounts."
The anger over profits follows earlier fury that in the past year Translink had to be given a more than £7m bailout in advance of the fares rise to cover a shortfall in the concession sector. Leading economist John Simpson said Translink's accounts should be carefully examined.
He said: "This year's annual report deserves a careful assessment of the achievements and a reconsideration of its policy objectives."
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph last week during a preview of the accounts, Translink finance director Stephen Armstrong said fares had to rise because the company faces funding cuts in what it receives from the Department for Regional Development, which part-funds Translink.
Chief executive Catherine Mason, who is Northern Ireland's highest paid public employee with a salary of £198,000, said last week: "Sometimes (fare increase)... is the only way of balancing the books.
The committee criticised Translink for putting up fares despite high reserves – according to the annual report, reserves have grown from £19m to £20.7m.
A spokeswoman for the DRD said that Translink's senior executives would not receive a bonus as a result of the improved financial performance.
Translink is made up of Northern Ireland Transport Holding and its subsidiaries: Citybus, NI Railways and Ulsterbus. Tranlink's report states: "We are collectively referred to as a public non-financial corporation. This effectively means we are a market body... yet are governed in policy terms by government."