Funding inequalities threaten Easilink services

A COMMUNITY project which supports the locality’s most vulnerable citizens is facing an uncertain future due to a funding inequality.
Easilink Community Transport, which has been providing affordable transport to hundreds of individuals and groups across Strabane, Omagh and Derry for the past 20 years currently receives less money than other providers, despite there being a greater need locally.
Last summer Easilink revealed that services might have to be cut from two days a week to one – and drivers made redundant – as there was a £65,000 shortfall.
Whilst emergency funds were made available by the Department for Infrastructure at that time to plug that gap, going into the new financial year after April 1, Easilink’s funding crisis will be reset.
“We’ve been in a very difficult position for the past three or four years,” Easilink’s chief executive, Paddy McEldowney explained.
“We’ve been running at a loss for three of those years… you’re talking about ten or 12 grand a year.
“We simply don’t have enough money to meet the demand in our areas, which means we have had to restrict the number of times per week our clients can use our services – this is not the case in any other areas.”
The crux of the situation, as Mr McEldowney and West Tyrone MLAs see it, is that no measurement of need is currently utilised to determine how much each area in the North receives through the Rural Transport Fund via the Department for Infrastructure.
In essence that means that other areas in Northern Ireland actually receive more money in funding than Derry, Strabane and Omagh, despite these other areas having a lesser rural population and less need identified.
“We’ve been restricting our service for years now,” Mr McEldowney continued.
“Because of the situation locally, if the money was divvied up fairly, we’d be getting a much larger allocation. At the minute we’re the biggest losers – the numbers just don’t stack up.
“The money is being divvied up but there is no consideration into need in each area.
“For example, Plumbridge is number one in the whole of Northern Ireland when it comes to deprivation through access to services.
“And four of the top ten most deprived areas are in west Tyrone.”
He added, “It’s difficult going public and talking about people’s jobs but we could be looking at redundancies and if nothing changes from the first of April we’re looking at cutting the service to one day a week while other neighbouring areas can deliver services five days a week.”

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