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Local Authority Charges.

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 3 July 2008

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Questions (6)

Dinny McGinley

Question:

6 Deputy Dinny McGinley asked the Minister for Education and Science if additional funds will be provided by his Department to schools to pay for water rates; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26217/08]

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Oral answers (9 contributions) (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

I am very much aware of the cost pressures on schools, including those arising from the changes in water charges.

Primary schools now get over €178 per pupil to meet their day-to-day running costs. This is an increase of nearly 70% on the 2002 rate of €105 and €15 more per child than they got last year. Post-primary schools have also seen improvements in funding and through a similar €15 increase this year now receive €331 per pupil. These increases are significant and well ahead of the consumer price index increases for the same period.

The position on water charges is that the Government agreed a transition period to full water charges in the case of non-fee charging recognised schools and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has advised local authorities of the detailed arrangements regarding the implementation of this decision.

The transitional arrangements afford schools the opportunity to put in place water conservation arrangements and practices and to undertake works that can help reduce water usage significantly before full water charges are introduced. By virtue of good water conservation, schools can be in a much stronger position to reduce the impact of water charges on their overall budgets. Guidance was also recently issued to schools on the most appropriate measures to minimise excess consumption of water and to reduce wastage where it occurs. In addition, water conservation issues will continue to be addressed by my Department as a matter of routine where new schools are being built or where major renovations are being carried out to existing schools under the schools modernisation programme.

My Department remains in close liaison with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government regarding water conservation and is supportive of any initiatives by it and local authorities that will help reduce water costs for schools.

The funding needs of schools generally and the support I can give them to help them meet day-to-day running costs are a matter that I will be considering in the context of next year's Estimates.

As the Minister is aware, schools are trying to keep their heads above water in terms of a range of new costs, particularly heating and fuel costs. One charge on foot of which most schools are having to pay through the nose is the new water charge. For example, water charges levied on all the schools in the area of South Dublin County Council have more than doubled over the past five years. Will the Minister conduct a nationwide survey of all the local authorities to determine exactly what increases have occurred in recent years? Bearing in mind the transition period between now and January 2010, what enhanced capitation and other benefits will the Minister give to schools next year to ensure they will not have to pay the very excessive water charges they expect at present?

It is difficult enough to run my own Department, not to mention trying to run the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

The Minister has many Ministers to help him.

I will raise Deputy Brian Hayes's point on local authorities with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, to determine the exact differences that exist.

Deputy Brian Hayes referred to increases and claimed the Government committed to addressing the issue of charges in the programme for Government. The programme states, "Examine the provision of waste and water allowances to schools, with charges becoming effective after these agreed allowances are exceeded". There is absolutely no commitment but a reference to examining the matter.

The green flag concept is outstanding. It involves three phases, the first pertaining to waste management, the second to energy conservation and the third to water conservation. We have issued guidelines to each of the schools on how they can minimise the impact of water charges. Regulatory efforts are being made so many schools can carry out a project, at very little cost, to ensure they will decrease their water consumption.

Will the Department of Education and Science be able to fund or make a contribution towards the introduction of water meters for schools so they can measure their improved performance?

The introduction of water meters is currently a matter between the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the schools involved. I did not make a commitment but indicated quite strongly that I would determine the help I could give schools, primary schools in particular, in terms of capitation in line with the 2009 Estimates. We should improve the level of capitation, particularly to primary schools, and I intend to prioritise this. It is important to note that capitation for a school with 300 pupils amounts to €100,000 per annum. Many schools, therefore, are doing particularly well.

They are coining it.

We provided for a 44% increase in capitation last year and, therefore, significant improvements have already been made. There is an action plan for the DEIS schools in disadvantaged areas and €19 million was allocated to meet their needs. Much work is being done and considerable funding is being invested in the system.

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