I propose to take Questions Nos. 80 to 82, inclusive, together.
School Transport is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department. In the 2018/2019 school year over 117,500 children, including over 13,000 children with special educational needs, were transported in over 5,000 vehicles on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country covering over 100 million kilometres at a cost of over €200m in 2018.
The 1975 Summary of Accounting Arrangements form the basis of the payment to Bus Éireann for the operation of the School Transport Scheme. In this regard, the Department reimburses Bus Éireann for a range of costs incurred in the operation and administration of the scheme. Re-imbursement to Bus Éireann is on a cost recovery basis and the Department does not pay any profit to Bus Éireann relating to the School Transport Scheme. Actual expenditure is finalised in the Bus Éireann annual statement of account which is independently audited by the Bus Éireann auditors in accordance with the 1975 Summary of Accounting Arrangements.
With regard to maintenance, on an annual basis Bus Éireann provides the Department with the projected cost of school transport services together with a provisional spread of payments. These costs are broken down under the headings agreed in the 1975 arrangement which include maintenance costs. Bus Éireann report the maintenance costs to the Department on a monthly basis as part of the monthly operational meetings.
The Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) carried out an examination of the provision of school transport and completed its report in August 2017, the C&AG Special Report 98. The C&AG report referenced a surplus in the Transport Management Charge element of the costs. This amount was held by way of an uncommitted reserve by Bus Éireann to be used solely for the purposes of the School Transport Scheme. Any surplus was sealed in the school transport scheme and the uncommitted reserve was repaid fully to the Department in December 2018.
Since the publication of the C&AG report the Department has undertaken a review of the apportionment methodology utilised by Bus Éireann for the School Transport Scheme. An independent expert was appointed to carry out a review of the apportionment methodology for the transport management charge that is paid by the Department to Bus Éireann each year. This report was completed in March 2018 and has provided us with a detailed analysis and classification of costs incorporated into the transport Management Charge.