Changes to minibus licence requirements will be a 'disaster' for schools, organisation representing state schools warns

Barry Mullholland, chief executive of the Controlled Schools Support Council, said that any change to minibus licences would be a "disaster" for schools
John Monaghan

AN ORGANISATION representing state schools in Northern Ireland has said potential imminent changes to licence requirements for minibus drivers will be a "disaster" and has warned of the impact on pupils.

Under current rules - in breach of EU law - a permit scheme allows drivers with regular car licences to operate minibuses on a 'not for profit' basis for schools, charities and community transport associations.

In June, the Department for Infrastructure said it was "updating its interpretation of the current legislation" which it said would have to be signed off by a minister, and extended the consultation period until January 1.

However, it is understood that the department is now poised to scrap the consultation after it confirmed that it had received a "legal challenge" from a private operator.

If the change is implemented, it will be the second time in as many months that the Department for Infrastructure has signed off on a decision without political approval, after civil servants gave the go-ahead for a controversial waste incinerator in Mallusk, Co Antrim, in September.

A spokesman for the Department for Infrastructure said: "In recent months, it became clear to the department that interpretation of existing legislation regarding minibus driving licence requirements was causing some confusion.

"The department has been working with those likely to be impacted to ensure they meet the requirements of the current legislation and allow an orderly is required to clarify the legal position at the end of the month."

According to the Controlled Schools' Support Council (CSSC), almost 100 schools responded to a consultation it issued last week, with 49 per cent operating between one and three minibuses.

CSSC chief executive Barry Mullholland said that the number of staff affected by any change "runs into thousands".

"Schools will be left with the choice to either pay for drivers to complete the necessary steps to meet the requirements, rely on private providers or curtail their activities as a result of the incoming changes," he said.

"The situation has been further exacerbated by rumours that DfI is going to make a ruling imminently, prior to the consultation closing. We are finding it difficult to have this confirmed, which is further adding to the stress that principals are under."

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access