The chair of Derry Trades Union Council has described a new report detailing multiple defects found during spots checks on school buses, as “deeply concerning.”
Liam Gallagher has called for a fleet upgrade after problems were identified in almost one third of the 90 school buses checked at random over the past year to April 2018, with a total of 52 different issues identified.
It emerged this week that a total of 21 defects were found in 11 of the 38 buses checked by the Driver Vehicle Agency in the Western region - the highest incidence in the North.
The Department for Infrastructure has confirmed that a wide range of issues were found on buses being used to ferry children to and from schools. These ranged from lighting and signage issues to defects in brakes, tyres, oil/fuel leaks and emergency exit defects.
An Education Authority (EA) spokesperson said it provided transport assistance for 85,000 pupils on a yearly basis, t he vast majority of whom travel to school by buses operated by the EA, Translink or contracted services from private operators.
“EA works closely with DVA to ensure school transport services are fully compliant with all aspects of operator, driver and roadworthiness responsibilities. Any defects identified by DVA or internal EA checks are rectified immediately,” she said.
“In relation to contracted services, the primary responsibility for dealing with non-compliance lies with DVA. This process is supported by EA through its own contractual management arrangements with operators which can include sanctions up to and including termination of contract.”
Reacting to the findings, Mr Gallagher said: “We have read the recent report with some concern and we have over a number of years been highlighting the need to upgrade the fleet and spend more money on health and safety in transport.”
He said that he understands the difficulty the Education Authority is in with regards finance for transport, and noted their response that vehicles are fixed immediately once a defect is identified.
“However,” he added, “as this report indicates, the safety of children and drivers is of paramount importance and can’t be ignored.
Mr. Gallagher said that DTUC appreciated that 82 per cent of the £1.7bn budget for education goes to school principals for management of schools, while 17 per cent of the budget allocated to services including school transport and one per cent going towards administration but said there just wasn’t enough funding at present.
“EA need money for current costs and to transform education throughout N.I.”
He said this had to include upgrading the existing transport stock and reducing reliance on costly private companies. “We are looking to bring it all back inhouse,” he said. “We would also like to think that the DVA is putting as much effort into the growing number of private transport used by the EA to transport children and we will be raising this as a matter of urgency with the EA.”