Translink 'Glides' into profitable year - but cash reserves are diminishing

Earlier this year Translink ordered 28 new high specification Ulsterbus double deck buses from Wrights Group in an investment of £6.7million. Pictured in front of the new vehicles is Translink Group chief executive Chris Conway (right) with Mark Nodder, Wrights Group chairman
Gary McDonald Business Editor

THE parent company of Translink and NI Railways has revealed marked improvements across most of its financial metrics despite it coming against the backdrop of challenging reductions in baseline public funding.

But the group warned that its reserves have virtually halved over the last five years to about £30 million, and it could lead to "alarm bells ringing" if future subsidies weren't forthcoming from government.

Accounts to the end of March reveal that pro forma profit before tax and technical accounting adjustments swung by nearly £13 million to a £2m profit compared to a loss of £10.9m in 2016/17.

This, it says, reflects the growth in fare paying passengers and receipt of additional revenues associated with running uneconomic but socially necessary rural services, combined with a range of efficiency measures.

Translink reported consolidated annual revenues for the year of £220.5m, up £15.3m (or 7.5 per cent) on last year (£205.2m).

The group balance sheet reflects a favourable movement in the valuation of its pension deficit from £250m to £201m in the year.

Capital investment for the year was £91.5m, primarily on infrastructure relating to the railway permanent way, Belfast Regional Transport (and the Glider service) and transport hubs in both Belfast and Derry.

The group said it made efficiency savings of £7 million in the last two years (based on reducing its overheads, better use of IT, optimising some services and reducing discretionary spend), but its target is to save £10 million.

Staff numbers across the group (in engineering, customer service and operations) rose from 3,759 to 3,821, and the company's total fleet size is 1383 buses and 45 trains.

During the year Translink also signed off on a number of new single and double deck buses with Wrightbus in a move see as critical in helping sustain manufacturing jobs at the Ballymena plant.

Group chief executive Chris Conway, however, has bemoaned the fact that there hasn't been a Stormont Executive in place for the entire annual accounting period for Translink.

He said: "We welcome the in-year funding from the Department for Infrastructure primarily for uneconomic, but socially necessary, rural services.

"This has started to address the current level of underfunding and recognises the critical role that public transport plays in developing Northern Ireland as a thriving and competitive region.

"But we remain considerably behind other parts of the UK when it comes to funding for public transport and we need to ensure there is sustained levels of recurrent funding going forward in order to plan and develop our networks and services."

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