Belfast Telegraph

Translink could be sold amid Stormont crisis: Take care selling the family silver

With the Northern Ireland Executive deeply in hock to the Treasury and departments creaking under swingeing budget cuts, it is understandable that all saleable assets are coming under scrutiny in a bid to raise the funds required to balance the books.

The Stormont administration has sizeable assets at its disposal but it is vital that it examines every option carefully before reaching a decision on whether or not to sell. After all, the assets can only be sold once and their value, both in cash terms and in their use to the public, must be carefully assessed.

Already it has been suggested that land around the Port of Belfast could be sold and now Translink and Northern Ireland Water are being put forward as potential sale items.

The sale of either must be approached with caution. Translink is a complicated set of companies which receives a large annual government subsidy. In return it provides a quite comprehensive bus service - although some town services may be axed because of falling income from the government.

The great fear of privatisation of transport services here is that unprofitable rural routes would be axed or reduced to a skeleton service. One only has to look at the chaos over Christmas on part of the rail network in England to see the potential pitfalls. The Westminister government may be a big fan of privatisation but that is not a reason for the NI Executive to follow blindly down the same route.

The sale of NI Water is even more problematic than privatisation of transport. To really make sense and to gain maximum value there would have to be some sort of undertaking or understanding that water charges would be introduced shortly.

Given the reaction to that move in the Republic, it is likely that there would be huge public discontent on this side of the border also. No matter whose ownership the company was in at that stage, politicians would find themselves in the firing line, something they might not fancy.

However, no matter what the obstacles, it is clear that the Executive must find some way of raising the money to pay back its loans. Certainly economic recovery could never be fast enough to increase government revenue, so it is proper that all other means are examined. But it must be done thoughtfully and with careful balance.

Cities' failure to mark dawn of a new year disappointing

Every year the major cities of the world light up to herald the dawning of a new year. Fireworks, street parties and entertainment form part of the fun and pageantry. But for people living in Belfast or Londonderry on New Year's Eve there was little civic recognition that 2015 was about to arrive.

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