Mr Robin Swann, the North Antrim Ulster Unionist MLA and Chairman of the Stormont Public Accounts Committee, has challenged the DUP Education Minister “to give a cast iron guarantee that his department will not gamble with the safety of school children through insufficient funding for new school buses”.
Assemblyman Swann, who is also UUP Chief Whip and North Antrim UUP Chairman, issued his challenge following a written Assembly question in which he ask the Minister of Education when his Department will release funding for transport services for new Education Authority buses, or the upgrade of the current fleet of buses.
Responding to Assemblyman Swann, the Minister said: “The amalgamation of five Education and Library Boards (ELBs) to one regional organisation means the Education Authority (EA) must consider their entire fleet across the five former ELBs when determining their need for additional school vehicles to ensure the efficient and effective use of resources.
“Once the EA has established its requirements, a business case will be developed and bid placed with the Department.
“In relation to the Department of Education’s capital budget for 2017/18 onwards, discussions are currently ongoing with the Department of Finance to assess the requirements for my Department. Capital funding requirements for Home to School Transport will form part of this discussion,” the Minister told Assemblyman Swann.
Mr Swann added: “Our children’s safety and their lives must be of the utmost priority when they are travelling on schools buses. It is, therefore, absolutely essential that no shortcuts are taken financially by the Education Minister’s Department when it comes to paying for safety measures aboard school buses. No amount of funding can replace the life of a child – the Department needs to keep this stark warning to the fore when allocating money for the school bus fleet,” said Assemblyman Swann.