Ulster says No to ‘privatisation’

After weeks of mounting speculation, Stormont Executive’s First Minister, Peter Robinson, has firmly ruled out ‘privatisation’ of Translink, the Northern Ireland public transport provider.

The rumours arose following the withholding of a key Committee for Regional Development report, embargoed until first debated by the NI Assembly (4 November 2013). Although its recommendations envisage some franchising, Committee Chairman, Jimmy Spratt MLA, castigated the way it has been reported.

“I want to nail this spurious accusation right at the outset. At no time, either during the course of the Inquiry, or in the reporting of the Committee findings and recommendations, have I, the Deputy Chair, or the Committee called for Translink to be privatised. The words ‘privatise’ or ‘privatisation’ do not appear in the body of the Committee report, for the simple reason that we did not use them.”

NI Transport Minister, Danny Kennedy, also says he does not support Translink privatisation: “I was very disappointed that this report was subject to media comment before the Assembly had chance to debate it. . . It is important the Committee explains the difference between privatisation and franchising. The 2011(NI) Transport Act contained a clause that most public transport services would continue to be provided by NITHC/ Translink, which is something I strongly support.”

However, the report is critical of the way Translink has been run in the past, and the perceived ‘cosy’ relationship it enjoys with the Department for Regional Development (DRD), to which it is responsible. It recommends greater transparency, and wants restructuring to remove any conflicting roles the Transport Minister faces as provider, policy maker and regulator of public transport.

The report calls for short term franchising contracts based on local transport plans, and has listed Belfast Rapid Transit as a suitable candidate.

{Translink is the brand name for NITHC (Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company), which operates three subsidiary companies – Northern Ireland Railways, Ulsterbus, and Citybus (Metro)}.

635/Nov 13

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