Thursday 27 July 2017

Bus Eireann rubbishes claims that 'funds are misused'

Mark Hilliard and Edel Kennedy

CALLS for an investigation into the "misuse" of school transport funds have been dismissed as an attempt by a private operators' group to increase profits.

The Coach Tourism & Transport Council (CTTC) has written to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) with claims that Bus Eireann is unfairly benefitting from government funding to run school bus services.

It has asked the PAC to investigate why a €180m annual contract is automatically handed to the semi-state body and not put out to public tender, in breach of Department of Finance and EU directives.

'Improperly'

In a statement released yesterday, the representative group said the arrangement had allowed Bus Eireann to "improperly" profit from the system.

"Because there is no tender process the State is deprived of offering the school transport contract to a lower bidder," it said. "This arrangement costs the State in excess of €15m per year."

It has accused the Department of Education, which awards school transport contracts, of being in breach of EU regulations on transparency in financial relationships between public bodies.

However, the claims have been rubbished by Bus Eireann which says no profit is made and that it is not in breach of any regulations.

More than €100m of the contract value goes to private service providers which have doubled from 1,700 to 3,400 since 1997, it said.

A separate account for its School Transport Scheme was maintained and independently audited on an annual basis.

Costs

Bus Eireann received payments of €18.7m in 2009 and €18.2m last year but this is to meet various costs.

This 'transport management charge' has been reduced year on year and will continue to fall, it said.

"The organisation that really profits from the school transport scheme are private operators.

"Currently 85pc of vehicles used in the scheme are provided by private operators, a very small number of whom are members of the CTTC."

It added that a move to change the system by the group "appears to be an attempt to gain even more profit from the scheme".

Arrangements between Bus Eireann and the Department of Transport are automatically renewed every year.

Irish Independent

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