Minibus shake-up will hurt the most vulnerable, says long-standing community worker

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An overhaul of the Department of Infrastructure’s (DfI) minibus licensing rules will cost a vital community hub in the city thousands of pounds and end up diminishing services for the most vulnerable members of society.

That’s according to Betty Feeney, from the Resource Centre Derry (RCD) in Carnhill, whose three minibus drivers shuttle residents of the Greater Shantallow area to older people’s clubs and Sure Start classes for toddlers in the facility on a daily basis while operating the centre’s minibus on an ordinary driving licence.

The RCD vehicle is a crucial lifeline for many members of the expanding community in Derry’s northern suburbs and is also used to ferry patients to Altnagelvin Hospital, and to deliver services such as ‘meals-on-wheels’ to older people, Ms. Feeney explained.

However, changes to DfI’s vehicle licensing regulations that were introduced last year are now likely to result in additional costs of up to £3,000.

Under the new rules RCD’s three drivers, because they are being “paid whilst driving, or [are] driving a minibus as a consequence of their employment] cannot be regarded as a volunteer and must have a D1 licence”.

Ms. Feeney has estimated that the cost of putting the drivers through their D1 training as well as ensuring that they acquire the requisite Certificates of Professional Competence (CPC) that are also needed following the changes will come to between £800 and £1,000 per head.

“It’s time bound. It kicks in in the first couple of months of the New Year.

“They are going to give us that grace to get it done but consideration has to be given to the cost,” said Ms. Feeney.

The long-standing community worker has appealed for common sense to be applied arguing that to financially penalise community services would lead to a false economy.

“Bear in mind that the Department (DfC) pays for some of the money in here. One hand’s giving it to you and the other is taking it way,” she said.

“Have you looked at the Skeoge recently? It’s an infrastructure of nothing except houses. We service out there with ‘meals-on-wheels’, with home visits, people who come in for day care, children’s services. How do we do that?”

SDLP MLA Mark H. Durkan is supporting Ms. Feeney’s call for a more flexible approach and described the prospect of punitive financial costs being levied on local service providers as “nonsensical”.