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Free school bus plan seems scuppered by no Stormont

school bus

School bus

PROPOSALS to extend free school transport to all Fermanagh children could be hampered by budget cuts and the collapse of the Stormont Assembly.
Easing traffic congestion in towns such as Enniskillen, as well as improving safety for children living in rural areas, were two of the reasons that free transport should be extended to all local children, no matter how far they lived from school, given by councillors at the April meeting of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council (FODC).
The councillors, who also suggested coordinating school holidays, had agreed FODC would write to the Department of Education (DE) requesting a meeting with board members to discuss their proposals.
At the June meeting of FODC in Enniskillen executive Brendan Hegarty told councillors that Department of Education (DE) had responded to their written request and had agreed to an informal meeting between DE officials and FODC councillors. He pointed out this was not a meeting with DE board members, as had been requested.
When asked if they were content with this proposal, the councillors rejected it, once again calling for a meeting with board members.
Cllr Robert Irvine stated the “raison d’etre” of their request was to influence policy, and only EA board members could do this, not EA officials.
“We want to talk directly to policy makers,” Cllr Irvine said.
Stressing he meant no disrespect to the officials, Cllr Irvine added he’d “rather talk to the organ grinder than the monkeys.”
However, in his correspondence with FODC regarding the meeting request, Derek Barker, DE permanent secretary, had indicated any changes to the current Home to School Transport policy were unlikely.
“Just to manage expectations, any proposal to revise current policy would be a decision for an incoming Education Minister,” Mr Barker had written.
“Furthermore, any proposal that involved increasing the cost of the current policy, against the background of the indicative budget of education announced by the Secretary of State and rising cost pressures elsewhere in education, is unlikely to be feasible unless accompanied by proposals about where additional resources could be found or commensurate reductions made in the costs of existing services.”

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