Posted 7 December 2021
Noeleen Lynch, Director of Community Transport Association NI, blogs on the campaign to retain the Dial-a-Lift Service provided by Rural Transport Partnerships across Northern Ireland. She argues that Community Transport is a solution, not a burden.
Community Transport Association (CTA) is a UK-wide membership organisation. We support our members who deliver community transport to predominately older people and people with disabilities within our communities. Our largest group of members in Northern Ireland are the eleven rural community transport partnerships who deliver Dial-a-Lift transportation across rural Northern Ireland. About 40% of people in Northern Ireland live in rural areas, and many older and disabled people rely on community transport to allow them to leave their homes. The Rural Community Transport Partnerships (RCTPs) have received government funding, since 1998, to deliver the Dial-a-Lift door-to-door transport service which allows their members to participate fully in society.
No Funding Guarantee
On February 21st, 2023, the Rural Community Transport Partnerships (RCTPs) and CTA were notified by the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) that there was no funding guarantee for 2023/2024. The Department explained that their financial position for 2023/24 was likely to be very challenging and would require extremely difficult decisions. We were shocked as we know how critically important the Dial-a-Lift service is in rural communities. There are no other transport alternatives for some of the most vulnerable people in our rural communities. This lifeline service could be removed as part of the Department’s response to a financial crisis which our sector played no part in creating and those most affected would be older and disabled people with no other way of getting around.
A Cliff Edge Scenario
Since then, CTA has been leading a campaign with the community transport partnerships to secure funding for 2023/24. While the sector has been given a funding reprieve until the end of June 2023 the clock is ticking with a cliff-edge scenario fast approaching. CTA and the rural partnerships have been lobbying political parties to make this funding crisis a top priority to make sure funding for the sector is retained.
Cuts Should Not Discriminate
CTA has also been in correspondence with DFI’s Permanent Secretary, Dr Julie Harrison, to highlight how vital the Department’s funding is. We have highlighted the Department’s legal responsibilities due to the high proportion of disabled and older people that community transport serves. This potential withdrawal of funding for Dial-a-Lift effectively discriminates against disabled and older people contravening the Disability Discrimination Act, The Rural Needs Act, and Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. Whilst we understand that the Department is under pressure to make cuts, there remains a legal duty to ensure any cuts do not discriminate. The most recent update from the Department was published via the BBC website. It stated that DfI is facing stark budgetary challenges and a 14% cut in its day-to-day budget compared to last year. A cut to community transport funding is identified as one of the ways that the Department could fill part of the £100M hole in its budget. This would cause severe and irreversible damage for the members. It would also lead to the loss of jobs in rural communities; livelihoods and lives will be lost should funding be cut.
Common Sense Should Prevail
CTA continues to be hopeful that common sense will prevail. The Dial-a-Lift service is too important to too many people to be removed. It is a cross-cutting service supporting many departmental objectives not just in DfI, but in the Department of Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs, the Department of Health, and the Department for Communities. It also supports access to vital services delivered by the wider community and voluntary sector.
“A Solution, Not a Burden”
The Dial-a-Lift service meets the needs of disabled and older people efficiently and cost-effectively. It is a solution, not a burden and a vital part of the transport infrastructure in NI. The current demand for the service is outstripping what can be supplied with the current levels of funding, indicating the importance of this service. This demonstrates the trust our users have in the providers of the Dial-a-Lift service and the lifeline it provides. The question must be asked, who would deliver these more than 200,000 journeys a year if the funding was removed? There is no one!
Transport is an Enabler
Transport is an enabler. When people have good, reliable, accessible transport, they can participate fully in society. They can access educational or employment opportunities, visit family and friends, attend clubs and societies, go shopping, and attend vital health appointments. CTA are campaigning for community transport funding to move to a ring-fenced multi-year fund, no longer viewed as a “discretionary” element of the budget but rather seen as essential funding that must be maintained at a level which is fair and matches the demand for the service across all communities in Northern Ireland, especially the rural ones.
To find out more about the CTA campaign, you can follow us on Twitter @ctauk1, go to our website, and if you have any follow up questions regarding the work of CTA in NI or across the UK, feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org
Jason Donaghy Manager of Fermanagh Community Transport has written a blog for RCN regarding the impacts of the crisis at a local level you can read that here.