The manager of a community transport scheme providing a lifeline service to hundreds of clients around the Roe Valley has slammed funding cuts of more than £200,000 as “damning”.
Billy Moore of North Coast Community Transport, originally Roe Valley Rural Transport, said the slash in funding imposed on April 1, equates to a 36.5 per cent cut on last year.
The £241,000 reduction will impact the most vulnerable in society who rely on the ‘Dial-A-Lift’ service to get out of their homes, said Mr Moore.
“The people impacted are the most vulnerable, isolated people living in rural areas that don’t have access to transport,” Mr Moore told the ‘Journal’.
“This service is a lifeline to the most isolated in society. It is the only way they can access services, such as getting to the shops, going to the doctor; basically getting them out the door.”
Mr Moore said the organisation is working to minimise the impact on users. He said it’s too early to assess the impact of the funding cut, but said clients are concerned. There is a fear the cut in funding won’t be the last, he said, and expressed concern for the future of the service.
“It’s terrible, very difficult, and we’re as annoyed as our clients,” said Mr Moore, who claimed cuts to the service will only lead to further rural isolation and social exclusion.
Transport Minister Danny Kennedy said he must make savings of £60m this year, leading to reductions in spending across the board. DRD said the grant to rural community transport had been cut from £2.75m to £2.4m.
“There is no one else who can deliver the service better,” said Mr Moore, who revealed the organisation has 44 volunteer drivers.
Danny Kennedy told the Assembly on Tuesday while he supports fully the services provided by all community transport service providers, “there will unfortunately be a reduction in the level of funding available. I have tried to minimise that”.
When asked during about services in the Limavady area, he said: “There is no proposal or intention by me to withdraw the services, but I face a fairly critical financial position in my resource budget. I cannot spend money that I do not have.”
The minister said his department is working with providers and users “to try to mitigate some of the issues on the ground, and we will continue to do that in all areas”.
East Derry MLA John Dallat said neither Translink, or any other organisation, will be able to fill the gap for people in rural areas once community transport services are cut, leaving them more isolated than ever.