I will take those questions. To answer the question the Deputy asked about initiatives for the private sector, he may be aware that, on 25 June, the Government made a decision to introduce a new system of temporary funding supports for the commercial bus sector. These are operators that typically provide scheduled bus services but are not a part of the public service obligation, PSO, regime because, in normal circumstances, they make a profit from their business. However, at the moment, because passenger numbers have been hit so hard by the Covid-19 emergency, those operators are not in a position to make profits. The Deputy has described the situation correctly. Those operators have high costs but need to keep services running. In this case, we are talking about services where there is a strong public interest for the services to keep running because they are providing a facility that the travelling public needs, particularly people who are either essential workers or others making necessary journeys. To that end, the Government made a decision that, on an exceptional basis for a period of six months, it would introduce a new temporary funding support arrangement. That is being done within the provisions of EU and Irish law and being administered by the NTA. It is putting contract arrangements in place with relevant private sector and other commercial operators where it judges that the services that those operators provide have a public service justification for their continuation. That is significant.
The Deputy also asked about the stimulus package. I understand that an initiative has been announced as part of the stimulus package specifically for coach tourism. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport is progressing that initiative.
The Deputy also asked about the age of vehicles used as taxis and licence fees for taxi drivers.
He might be aware that those matters come within the ambit of the NTA. Under legislation passed by the Houses in 2013, the NTA is the regulator for the taxi sector. It has statutory independence from the Department and we do not have a role in areas in respect of which it makes decisions. The two issues about which the Deputy asked come within the remit of the NTA.
The Deputy might be aware, from the comments we made earlier, that within the past week or so the taxi advisory committee has made a report to the Minister and the Department. The previous Minister met representatives of the advisory committee a number of weeks ago and encouraged them to come up with a report after looking at what needs to be done across the sector. The advisory committee has come up with a list of measures that it thinks are relevant. Some of those measures are relevant to the Department, some to the NTA and others to a few other Departments. There will be an engagement next week between the Department, the NTA and the taxi advisory committee to give preliminary feedback on the proposals that have been put forward. Some of the proposals will be possible to be implement and others will not. A few, indeed, are already in train.
The Deputy asked about grants specifically for the taxi industry. There are no initiatives under way in that regard but, within the stimulus package and more generally in the horizontal business supports that have been introduced by the Government in recent weeks and months, a number of initiatives are relevant. The pandemic unemployment payment is relevant to those who are not currently working and have temporarily ceased working in the sector because of the emergency. As was announced yesterday, that payment will continue for a considerable period.
Specifically considering a business focus and helping people with their business costs, restart and enterprise support grants are available. There are also credit guarantee schemes available for businesses that need to undertake loans. Advisory supports are also available. They do not get as much coverage as other supports but can be very helpful to small businesses such as taxi companies and others. Those supports offer advice on matters such as financial planning, business continuity and how to get going and cope with business challenges.
There is no way we are underestimating the business challenges because they are real. They affect the taxi sector as they do practically all other sectors of business. The motivation to be of assistance and help business as best possible is what is underlying Government policy on things such as the stimulus package and the range of horizontal supports that have been announced. I hope I have captured the main points that the Deputy raised.