Thursday, 12 November 2020

Ceisteanna (81)

Darren O'Rourke

Ceist:

81. Deputy Darren O'Rourke asked the Minister for Transport the engagements he has held with travel agents and bus and coach operators to date to discuss State support for their severely impacted sectors; if he has engaged with his colleague, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, on extending access to existing supports such as the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS, to those sectors that fall under the remit of his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35767/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Transport)

I want to reassure the Deputy that both the National Transport Authority (NTA) and my Department have been engaging directly with commercial bus operators throughout the crisis to help inform policy decisions in relation to the public transport sector as we continue to deal with the impact of Covid-19.

Public transport is a key facilitator of interaction in the economy and society. It is an efficient and sustainable way of getting people to work, education, shopping and other social engagements. The essential nature of these services has been acknowledged a number of times by the Government in recent months, most notably in the decision to provide additional funding for public service obligation, PSO, services and the introduction of temporary funding measures for the licensed bus sector.

These temporary funding supports have been introduced to help ease the financial pressure on operators arising from the fall in passenger numbers and associated drop in fare revenue as a result of Covid-19. They are aimed at ensuring the continued operation of essential licensed bus services for a period of up to six months and are targeted at covering the gap between specified costs and the revenues generated on the services. The supports are targeted at those classes of bus services where a clear public interest justification supports such intervention, in line with relevant State aid considerations. The NTA, as the public transport licensing agency, is responsible for administering the funding support through contracts with the relevant operators.

These supports are in addition to the suite of other financial support measures that the Government has introduced to help mitigate the impact of Covid-19, including the pandemic unemployment payment which operators can avail of and which remains open to new applicants until the end of the year and a Covid-19 enterprise support grant which can be put towards the costs associated with reopening a business, including the purchase of cleaning materials and personal protective equipment.

These measures are in addition to rates waivers, lending facilities, equity injection and business advisory supports, all of which will help to improve cash flow. The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation has also set up on online tool to help support Irish start-ups and SMEs to navigate the range of Government supports and identify which support may be most relevant to their business.

Fáilte Ireland has also been tasked with developing a Business Continuity Scheme to help coach tourism businesses through this very difficult period. This scheme, which has been allocated €10m in funding as part of the July stimulus package, is under the remit of my colleague the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Catherine Martin.

I am aware of the very difficult business environment that the commercial operators have been facing. Indeed, across Government we are acutely aware that the Covid-19 situation presents huge challenges for many business sectors. Indeed, the travel trade has not been able to reclaim any meaningful level of lost trade over the past 6 months. My colleague Minister of State Naughton met with the travel trade industry as represented by the Irish Travel Agents Association (ITAA) and our Department has maintained contact with the ITAA throughout this crisis.

I understand that, under current Level 5 Covid restrictions, travel agents and tour operators operating from business premises that customers are prohibited or significantly restricted from accessing may be eligible for the Covid Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS). This scheme is designed to assist those businesses whose trade has been significantly impacted or temporarily closed as a result of the restrictions as set out in the government’s ‘Living with COVID-19’ Plan. Detailed guidance on this scheme (which is under the remit of my colleague the Minister for Finance, Paschal Donohoe) is available at www.revenue.ie/en/corporate/press-office/budget-information/2021/crss-guidelines.pdf.

Taken together with the various supports made available by Government for SMEs, I would be hopeful that these various measures will help safeguard the travel trade sector throughout the difficult months ahead so that it will be ready to trade fully again when circumstances permit.