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Stormont to bail out Translink as it faces big losses

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Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon

Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon

Unite's Davy Thompson

Unite's Davy Thompson

Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon

The Executive will provide Translink with more money in response to Covid-19 after its chief executive Chris Conway said it faced a £100m shortfall.

The funding is on top of £20m given to help clear the company's deficit prior to the coronavirus emergency.

It came as a national official for trade union Unite said he hoped deaths from Covid-19 among bus drivers in Britain would not be repeated in Northern Ireland.

Davy Thompson, also of Unite, said Translink had taken wide-ranging measures to protect drivers since the beginning of the pandemic.

Revenues have slumped at the company after passenger numbers were hit in the lockdown.

Translink said: "We have seen a reduction in passenger numbers of over 90%, with services operating at 10-15% of what we would normally see."

But it added: "Public transport will play a vital role as we work to rebuild and recover the local Northern Ireland economy."

Translink is continuing to run buses on underused routes, as it is obliged to under the terms of its subsidy from government.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Finance said: "The Executive has agreed to provide Translink with additional support in response to Covid-19 on top of the £20m provided as part of Budget 2020-21."

And the business has been asked by Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon to look into furloughing workers.

But last night a department spokeswoman told the Belfast Telegraph that an assessment of the potential of furloughing "would not deliver a game-changing financial solution for the organisation", and that employees would be needed when demand eventually picked up again.

She added: "Minister Mallon is expecting that money to be made available to her department soon, allowing the minister to allocate vital funding and ensuring a sustainable service as we look to support the public throughout the Covid recovery period."

Meanwhile, a union representative in England has said he hopes that the deaths of bus drivers in service in Britain is not repeated on this side of the Irish Sea.

Unite national officer Bobby Morton said: "I sincerely hope that doesn't happen in Translink. Last time I checked the figures, we had 37 fatalities in England, and that's 37 too many.

"We're urging operators to hold risk assessments and upgrade the cleanliness of buses where possible.

"But no matter what we do, the germ always seems to find a way through."

Translink said: "Thankfully, we have had no Covid-related deaths.

"Safety of our colleagues and passengers continues to be our top priority."

Mr Thompson explained that Metro buses are already fitted with Perspex screens, while drivers are also equipped with visors, masks, hand sanitiser, gloves and wipes to take with them.

But he added: "There's always a nervousness about these things that we'll never be 100% safe; the reality is that we have accidents every day.

"I think we have to worry about everybody going back to the workplace, no matter what the workplace is.

"Our bus drivers have shown tremendous resilience, but you can't give a 100% guarantee."

Belfast Telegraph