I am responding on behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Ciaran Cannon.
The review group was established in January 2009. The review was carried out as part of the 2009-11 round of value for money reviews approved by the previous Government and conducted in accordance with the criteria for such reviews set out in the Department of Finance's Value for Money and Policy Review Initiative Guidance Manual. The emphasis in such reviews is on the efficiency and effectiveness of the programmes under examination to assess value for money in their delivery.
The composition of value for money review committees can vary. In this instance, membership of the steering committee was drawn from my Department and other relevant Departments and included an independent chairman, namely, Mr. Willie Soffe, former county manager of Fingal County Council, and two independent experts.
All external stakeholders, including school patrons and parent and teacher organisations, were given an opportunity to make their views on the school transport scheme known. The process included a call for submissions on a range of specific issues which resulted in 85 submissions. In addition, following an assessment of these submissions and in order to give stakeholders a further opportunity to present their views, a day-long consultative forum was organised in October 2009 by the steering committee with a combination of individual sessions and an open forum discussion with the chairperson and committee members. In this way, it was considered by the steering committee that all stakeholders were afforded a further opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to the review process.
I am taking it that the Deputy is referring to the issue of the cessation of the closed school rule, CSR, as it relates to primary school transport eligibility. This change was announced in budget 2011 by the previous Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government and derived from a recommendation in the published value for money review of the scheme. To put the matter in context, the review showed that the unit cost of primary school transport was €1,020 per child. Furthermore, the four year national recovery plan requires savings of €4.5 million to be made through operational efficiencies and other savings measures in the school transport budget in 2011, rising to overall full-year savings of €17 million by 2014. The aggregation of the measures being implemented arising from the value for money review will be an important element in achieving these savings.
It is important to stress there are a number of dimensions to the cessation of the closed school rule. The first of these which will be implemented from September involves the uniform application of the distance criteria to all pupils travelling under the primary transport scheme, including those travelling under the closed school rule. This means that children residing less than 3.2 km from the school of amalgamation will be deemed ineligible for school transport. In such cases, the children concerned may apply for concessionary transport.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House.
The second element of the change is scheduled to take effect in September 2012 and will apply only in the case of pupils commencing their primary education from that date. This second element will restrict school transport eligibility for those pupils entering in September 2012 to pupils who meet the distance eligibility criterion and are travelling to their nearest school. Available statistics, based on sampling undertaken as part of the value for money review, indicate that the impact of this change will be limited as the majority of pupils categorised under the closed school rule are, in fact. attending their nearest school. Therefore, the majority of these families will not be affected by this change.
Before implementing this second main change which is proposed for 2012, my Department has requested Bus Éireann to conduct a detailed analysis of the on the ground impact for individual schools and the rural communities they serve. This analysis will be based on the most up-to-date information available on current school transport usage patterns and I expect to have the information available to me this summer. I will then have an opportunity to carefully examine the likely effect of this change well in advance of the 2012 implementation date.