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Mid Ulster MLA Keith Buchanan has questioned Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon about whether savings could have been made by Translink through furloughing staff.

Speaking after raising the issue in the Assembly this morning, Mr Buchanan said,

“The COVID-19 outbreak has had a devastating impact across all sections of our society, and the measures put in place to mitigate its impact have been truly unprecedented. The job retention scheme put in place across the UK has been a major lifeline for many both in the private and public sector.

The Job Retention Scheme was announced on 23rd March. Transport for London announced plans to furlough staff on 18 April. The Scheme is scheduled to close on 30 June. Whilst late in the day, the savings could run into millions of pounds.

Given the dire financial warnings from Translink and the reduction in service across the network many will question why the Infrastructure Minister does not appear to have been more pro-active in assessing this option.

To suggest that one of the reasons it has not been taken forward is because the scheme will close at the end of June does not seem reasonable. That is exactly the same situation faced by every employer making a decision to enter the scheme.

There are a number of questions which the Minister needs to answer quickly.

  1. When was Translink asked to make an assessment of how Job Retention Scheme could help?
  2. Was Translink given a deadline to bring forward proposals?
  3. Could staff have been identified in groups to go forward for the Job Retention Scheme?
  4. If so how many employees could be furloughed and what are the potential savings?
  5. Has the Minister tabled this matter for an Executive discussion?

Decisions across government, and indeed in most businesses have had to be taken extremely quickly given the unprecedented circumstances. Given the warnings issued by Translink at the start of this year about its financial state many people will believe this option should have been explored more quickly and in more detail by the company.

This is an issue I hope to pursue with the Minister through the Infrastructure Committee.”