Gangway minibus ‘not for use by community groups’– says council chief

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COMMUNITY groups will not have access to a minibus acquired by Larne Borough Council for youth services.

The position, as stated by chief executive Geraldine McGahey, came as a surprise to a number of councillors, who had thought the vehicle – secured with a £45,000 Department of Justice grant – would be made available for groups planning excursions and field trips.

The Larne Times was excluded from the confidential discussion at the end of a recent development committee meeting, but it is clear from the minutes published that at least one elected member was at variance with the chief officer.

Recommending acceptance of a tender submitted by the Donnelly Group to provide the minibus, Mrs McGahey said it was 100 per cent funded through the Criminal Assets Recovery Fund. The grant covered purchase of the vehicle and training for the Gangway Project, which is funded by Larne Community Safety Partnership and Larne Borough Council, and is aimed at addressing problems caused by young people involved in anti-social behaviour, underage drinking, drug abuse or criminality.

Gangway seeks to develop “diversionary activities” and to help local police to engage with “hard-to-reach” young people.

Council minutes report that Cllr Martin Wilson queried the purpose of the minibus and was informed by Mrs McGahey that it was to provide transport for the young people involved with Gangway.

Cllr Gregg McKeen asked if the vehicle could be used for other community activities when not in use. He was told that was not the case. “It must be related to youth services and the provisions of the Gangway Project and the programmes to be delivered through the Sports Development Unit,” is the chief executive’s minuted reply.

The official record continues: “Cllr McKeen felt that if the minibus was going to sit unused for a proportion of the time, perhaps the money could be put to better use. The chief executive replied that there wasn’t any contribution from Council as it was 100 per cent funded and was specifically for the Gangway Project and for use of the young people, with the driver being from the council’s own staff. It could not be let out to community groups.”

Mrs McGahey indicated that some groups had approached the funding agency, CSU, to request access “having been told by officers that they couldn’t”. The minutes state: “This was reinforced by CSU that it was only available for those projects connected to the Gangway Project.

“Cllr McKeen said that was not his original impression when the purchase of the bus was first discussed. He thought it was to be available when it wasn’t being used, to other community groups.

“The chief executive said it could be used for other projects being delivered and supported by council officers and not by community groups and it was never the intention to do so.”

Cllr John Mathews asked how long the Gangway Project would run and was informed it would continue for as long as CSU continued to fund it.