Fuel Costs: School Bus Operators

Oral Answers to Questions — Infrastructure – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:30 pm on 21 March 2022.

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Photo of Nicola Brogan Nicola Brogan Sinn Féin 2:30, 21 March 2022

T2. Ms Brogan asked the Minister for Infrastructure whether she has engaged with the Minister of Education on the impact of soaring fuel costs on school bus operators. (AQT 2172/17-22)

Photo of Nichola Mallon Nichola Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party

The Member raises a very important point. It is certainly an issue that I am concerned about in relation to Translink, although it bought and secured fuel in advance. Members will also know that rising costs are a massive issue for Northern Ireland Water, which is the single biggest electricity consumer in the North.

School transport is a matter that falls to the Department of Education and the Education Authority. However, I am happy to engage with the Education Minister on the issue and provide her with support, because I know how pressing it is. Sadly, it looks set only to escalate further.

Photo of Nicola Brogan Nicola Brogan Sinn Féin

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire fosta. I thank the Minister for her answer. She is right. I have been contacted by a number of school bus operators who have contracts with the Education Authority and are afraid that they will be unable to maintain them because of the cost of fuel. Will the Minister confirm whether she will provide support to bus operators that are really struggling because of the increases in the cost of fuel?

Photo of Nichola Mallon Nichola Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party

I have to be respectful of the Education Minister's role and responsibilities, but the Member will know that we have initiated the third scheme for private bus and coach operators that were impacted by significant reductions in their income during the pandemic. Applications for that scheme closed earlier this month, and we received 90 applications. Those applications are being processed so that payments can be issued as quickly as possible to those who qualify for support. I will continue to engage with the sector. If the Education Minister wishes to discuss the matter with me, I am very happy to do that, given our experiences with Northern Ireland Water.