I thank the Deputies who have collectively raised this issue of genuine concern. I wish to make it absolutely clear that there are no plans to abolish the rural transport programme. On the contrary, the intention is to strengthen the programme by ensuring a more efficient delivery structure and maximising integration with other State transport services. My ambition is to ensure the programme and its services form a sustainable part of the public transport system - this is critical - in line with the commitment in the programme for Government to maintain and extend the rural transport programme along with other local transport services. The Government recognises that the rural transport programme plays a major role in combatting rural isolation and enhancing the mobility, accessibility and community participation of local people, particularly those at risk of social exclusion. Therefore, I assure the House that any future delivery model for rural transport will continue to address the social inclusion objective.
Since I became Minister of State with responsibility for public and commuter transport, I have initiated developments aimed at ensuring rural areas will have a more complete and cost-effective transport service that better meets the transport needs of all users. To this end, national responsibility for the integration of local and rural transport services, including the rural transport programme, has been assigned to the National Transport Authority since 1 April 2012, thereby putting such services in a broader transport context.
I also established the National Integrated Rural Transport Committee in April 2012, comprising key stakeholders and chaired by the National Transport Authority, NTA, to oversee and manage a partnership approach to implementing integrated local and rural transport. I am very conscious of the scope for and desirability of achieving greater levels of transport integration and co-ordinated delivery across a range of Exchequer-funded local and rural transport services, such as school and HSE transport services. Indeed, I have been working with my Government colleagues, including the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, on these issues.
I am 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 35 RTP groups and local authorities, it is necessary that the current delivery mechanisms and structures are examined and revised.
Under the NTA and Pobal, the administration costs to the programme were reduced by 33.5% by the end of 2012, which happened without major disruption to services. Combined with the reduction in Pobal's costs, the threshold administration proportion of 17% recommended in the VFM review was also achieved by the end of 2012. In order to achieve the recommended administration costs of 13%, restructuring of the RTP is required. Therefore, the current structures of the RTP are not sustainable if the required efficiencies and savings are to be achieved and if the RTP is to be sustainable in the long run. If these are not achieved, then, within the limited resources available, services will decline. I am not prepared to allow this to happen.
Work is under way to determine the optimal structure for the delivery of rural transport from an efficiency and service perspective. One of the proposals being examined is that the RTPs be "aligned" with local authorities and that a number of co-ordination units be established. 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. While I would emphasise that no decision has been taken, I am hopeful I will be in a position to recommend a new structure later this year which will allow for the maximising of spend on services and the reduction of administration costs. I will be ensuring that any future structure for the rural transport programme will be based on community input, local flexibility and involving the voluntary sector, which is crucial. Rural transport, by its very nature, is community-based and this will remain under any new structure.
This year, €9.133 million is being allocated to the RTP, some 93% of the 2012 allocation. This represents only a small decrease at a time when very difficult decisions have had to be taken to curtail or postpone other programmes. I want to ensure that we maximise the spend on services and reduce the cost of administration. I should say that, over the past year, significant progress on integration has been made, with considerable engagement at local level with State agencies that provide transport, for example, Bus Éireann, school and HSE services, and so on. Some 26 RTPs are now providing services to the local HSE, while 16 RTP groups are providing some services to schools and preschools. In addition, RTPs are now providing services for other organs of the state, such as Rehabcare, National Learning Network, Kare, IWA, Enable Ireland, Cheshire Homes and the Centre for Independent Living.
I would like to assure the House of my personal commitment to the continuation of appropriate local transport services to those in need in rural areas while achieving the best value for money for the Exchequer through more efficient delivery structures and integrated services. While I can understand and fully appreciate that this creates a level of uncertainty for RTP groups, I am confident that the outcome will be a better service delivered more efficiently. The many members of the rural transport programme whom I have met want to positively influence the discussion around structures and, as Minister of State, I want to ensure that as much as possible of the social inclusion work carried out by the rural transport network is maintained. I will work with all involved over the coming months to make any transition as smooth as possible. The rural transport programme will become a permanent and lasting part of the public transport system. This is my intention and my ambition.