Ulster Unionist Education Spokesperson, Rosemary Barton MLA, has warned that thousands of local schoolchildren will be hit by the decision of local civil servants to push through a major change to minibus licensing, even in the absence of a local Executive.
Rosemary Barton said:
“There is nothing new about this issue – for the last 8 years some civil servants have been trying to change the way that driver licensing and operator licensing works for minibuses. Yet every time they tried they were rightly knocked back by Ministers.
“It is outrageous that some civil servants have now exploited the current political impasse at Stormont to steamroll through their own wishes. It is an example of a wholly inappropriate civil service power grab.
“The latest chapter in the licensing saga is that the Education Authority have now instructed schools to make sure teachers have a full minibus licences, even if they are transporting kids on their own voluntary time.
“The reality for some schools is that activities will have to cease come the 1st January next year as they just won’t be in a position to legally transport schoolchildren. Expecting schools to secure the new licence before January shows how little common-sense the Education Authority and local Infrastructure Department officials are showing, given that it takes several months and approximately £1,000 to train a single staff member to get the licence.
“If a local Executive were in place this decision could be reversed. In the meantime, I would urge the local senior civil servants to stop speaking out of both sides of their mouths – they cannot claim, as they repeatedly do, that they cannot make policy decisions in the absence of local Ministers and yet still doggedly pursue this major change of policy.”