Proposal to introduce school bus fares is slammed

Declan McAlinden. INLM0811-812con
Declan McAlinden. INLM0811-812con

Proposals to introduce fees for school transport has been slammed by the SDLP and the union Unite.

Cllr Declan McAlinden described news that the Education Authority is considering ending free school transport as ‘completely unacceptable’.

He also revealed that the cost of schools meals are also set to rise.

“Many families in Upper Banns’ rural communities live well beyond the three mile radius which entitles them to free transport, but under these cuts will now have to pay. I have spoken to a number of families who are already seeing the costs of their children’s school meals rise and understandably this news is gravely concerning.”

EA Chief Executive Gavin Boyd said; “The Education Authority (EA) is facing significant financial challenges. This means that we cannot continue to do all of the same things in all of the same ways as we have done in the past. For some time now we have been considering every aspect of our spending and service delivery.

“EA currently provides free home to school transport for around 90,000 pupils at a cost of £75million. Parents bear the cost of school transport for the majority of pupils (over 240,000).

“Transport reform is a key part of our review of services. A range of options are being considered including whether some parents may be asked to contribute to the costs of providing school transport. Any proposed change to existing home to school transport policy would be subject to the Education Minister’s approval, full public consultation and equality impact assessment.”

Union Unite said it will engage with buses drivers to determine appropriate response

A spokesperson said: ““Reports that the Education Authority is considering bringing forward charges of between £50 and £200 a child from September 2017 as a result of swingeing cuts made to their budget by the NI Executive parties are deeply alarming.

“Unite is completely opposed to this proposal which is unfair and will represent a further tax on families. The impact of a flat rate charge will be highly regressive and impact those on lowest incomes disproportionately. If those on benefits are excluded then the charges will fall on the just-about managing working families and will be equally objectionable. In addition, this measure will also constitute a stealth tax on rural communities who are most dependent on school transport services.

“We will be engaging with our membership among the Education and Library Board drivers to determine our most appropriate response to this threat. Our drivers have a strong commitment to defending free public transport for children going to school”, Mr Scott said.

Unite in the Community Regional Coordinator, Albert Hewitt, offered the active support of his community membership branches in building a campaign to defeat the proposal:

“This proposal is being sneaked in under the shadow of an increasingly divisive election; however, Unite in the community branches will work to ensure that it becomes a live election issue for all parties.

“Unless the NI Executive intervenes to halt this and provides adequate funding for school transport, our branches will work with drivers, parents, children, schools, local communities and local trades councils to build a people power campaign to defeat this proposal.

“There’s hundreds of millions spare to cut corporation tax, to subsidise wood burners and for unnecessary voluntary exit schemes but we are told there’s no money when it comes to our schools, our hospitals or our buses. It’s time for a different political agenda in Stormont”, Mr Hewitt finished.

EA Chief Executive Gavin Boyd said; “The Education Authority (EA) is facing significant financial challenges. This means that we cannot continue to do all of the same things in all of the same ways as we have done in the past. For some time now we have been considering every aspect of our spending and service delivery.

“EA currently provides free home to school transport for around 90,000 pupils at a cost of £75million. Parents bear the cost of school transport for the majority of pupils (over 240,000).

“Transport reform is a key part of our review of services. A range of options are being considered including whether some parents may be asked to contribute to the costs of providing school transport. Any proposed change to existing home to school transport policy would be subject to the Education Minister’s approval, full public consultation and equality impact assessment.”