Late last week during a radio interview the Minister for Education, Norma Foley TD., was informed of a potential problem with a classroom in a school. She promised to look into the matter after the programme. Later that day Fergal Barton, spokesperson for the Coach Tourism & Transport Council (CTTC) said the fee offered to school bus operators to sanitise their vehicles was below cost. So far, no similar reaction from the Minister.
For years transport operators, truck and bus, have felt as they were the poor relation of industry in the eyes of the Government. Some of the events of the last few weeks may indeed confirm this for bus operators. First of all, a paltry fee has been offered to bus operators to prepare their passenger vehicles for the return to school, while schools on the other hand have budgets to employ cleaners. Arrangements are in process to pay substitute teachers should teachers need cover in the event of illness. No similar arrangements are in place for bus crews.
At the end of last week, it was announced that it would be a few weeks before extra buses could be provided to ensure social distancing. A robust purchasing and procurement process would be necessary, to ensure value for money. The general view is that a lot of services and products were purchased by the Government in the last few months with limited due diligence, or concern about value for money. While it is unlikely that there is a policy to discriminate against transport operators, it is curious. Do the Government not see the transport aspect of the return to education as important or an area of risk? Unlikely also. So are they just bullying a sector that has may appear to be an easy target? Hopefully not.