Since becoming Minister for Public and Commuter Transport the developments I have initiated have been aimed at ensuring that into the future we have a more complete and cost effective transport service offering in rural areas that better meets the transport needs of all users. To this end national responsibility for local and rural transport services integration, including the Rural Transport Programme (RTP) was assigned to the National Transport Authority (NTA) with effect from 1st April 2012, putting such services in a broader transport context. I also established the National Integrated Rural Transport (NIRT) Committee in April 2012, comprising key stakeholders and chaired by the NTA, to oversee and manage a partnership approach to implementing integrated local and rural transport.
I am very aware of the very valuable work done on the ground by the RTP Groups in ensuring that the transport needs of their local community are being identified and delivered within available resources. However, given resources are limited and that the Value for Money and Policy Review of the RTP, published last year, recommended organisational restructuring to achieve efficiencies and the establishment of better alignment between the RTP groups and local authorities, it is necessary that the current delivery mechanisms and structures are examined and revised.
The current structures of the RTP are not sustainable if the required efficiencies and savings are to be achieved. If these are not achieved then with the limited resources available services will decline. I am not prepared to allow that to happen.
Work is underway to determine the optimal structure for the delivery of rural transport from an efficiency and service perspective. Discussions are taking place with the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, the County and City Managers Association and the Rural Transport Network in the context of aligning the new structure with the local authority structure. The NIRT Committee is also being kept appraised of developments. I am hopeful that agreement on the revised structure can be achieved in the second half of this year.
I want to emphasise however that any future structure for the rural transport programme will be based on community input, local flexibility and involving the voluntary sector. Rural Transport by its nature is community-based and this will remain under any new structure.