COVID-19 Guidance and Financial Support to Industry Sectors

Part of Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 12:00 pm on 7th July 2020.

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Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP 12:00 pm, 7th July 2020

Not at this time, thank you.

He outlined that £59·5 million of the funding set aside by the Executive for the transport sector had not yet been allocated. In response to a letter to DOF and DFE on the need for financial support for taxi drivers, the Finance Minister provided a list of COVID support schemes to which those in the taxi industry could apply. However, there was also an acknowledgement that many drivers had not been able to access the available schemes.

As for a financial support package for the road haulage and logistics sector, it was a similar story, with the Infrastructure Minister taking the view that her Department was responsible only for the regulation of the industry and, through that role, she had introduced regulatory measures to aid the transport and logistics sector.

The Minister also identified that the Department for Transport has been liaising with the Road Haulage Association (RHA) and Freight Transport Association (FTA) to ensure that the key objectives of maintaining critical supply routes and supporting economic recovery are achieved. Regarding a Northern Ireland package of support, the Minister advised that any request for financial support for the road freight sector should be made by the Department for the Economy.

The RHA and FTA provided oral and written briefings to the Committee on the amendments to legal requirements that they have sought to enable them to continue to provide their vital role in keeping supply chains operating. Those changes include extending drivers' daily driving and delivery hours, vehicle MOTs, driving licences and medical examinations to ensure the continuation of vital supplies required by all in Northern Ireland.

In response to the Committee's concerns, the Department advised that the Department for Transport has been liaising with RHA and FTA to understand the up-to-date picture for road hauliers at a local and UK-wide level. The FTA weekly survey of the first week of April 2020 reported that businesses were experiencing the following: 82% general downturn in business, with work orders cancelled; 34% had gone out of business; 20% of HGV drivers and warehouse staff were not able to work due to the virus; and 32% were experiencing moderate to severe difficulties in finding fitters, mechanics and technicians.

The RHA and FTA detailed how some elements of the sector are surviving. However, there are operators in other sectors. For example, one operator has a mixed fleet of vehicles worth £6 million parked up. They are relatively new vehicles, and the depreciation on the vehicles alone is in the region of £100,000 a month. With the vehicles parked up for over three months, that is a loss of over £300,000 in value, and that does not take into consideration the lost income.

The Committee has also heard, as I am sure that many Members have, from driving instructors who are feeling forgotten and invisible during the pandemic. Some have tried to work out their own safety measures, with little to no guidance.