Northern Ireland

Lollipop men and women removal proposal 'unpalatable'

Lollipop woman Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A letter suggests "lollipop ladies and gentlemen" are not the EA's statutory responsibility

The Education Authority (EA) has considered removing all "lollipop men and women" in an effort to save money.

However EA board members regarded that proposal - and other potentially controversial savings measures - as "unpalatable".

The board also decided any decision to make such cuts should be down to the Department of Education (DE).

The revelation comes in a letter from the EA to the department seen by BBC News NI.

It states that the EA faces an estimated funding gap of £58m in 2018/19.

The letter is addressed to Gary Fair, the department's finance director.

Whose responsibility?

It outlines the authority's initial budget plans for 2018/19 and highlights a number of "difficult choices" the authority is faced with.

These include the removal of school crossing patrols, withdrawing uniform allowances and compulsory redundancies in schools.

"Board members would also seek cover from the department on the removal of school crossing patrols," it said.

Image copyright ilbusca
Image caption The EA suggested that responsibility for patrols lies with the police and Department for Infrastructure

The letter suggests that "traffic control measures" like "lollipop ladies and gentlemen" are not the EA's statutory responsibility but that of the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) and the police (PSNI).

"DfI have statutory responsibility for traffic management and PSNI have statutory responsibility for enforcement," it said.

It also queries the £40m a year the EA pays to Translink for school transport.

"There is a wider question as to whether the central responsibility for supplementing this NI service rests with EA or whether this should be considered at the NI Centre," it said.

Ministerial absence

The letter said that any proposal to remove uniform allowances would "be publicly and politically very contentious".

"Members would not have the authority to make these decisions and would ask the department to use its authority," it said.

However, the EA board also expressed concerns that a recent court judgement would limit money-saving decisions that could be made in the absence of ministers.

The letter said the EA's projected deficit of £58m was mainly down to "declining schools' financial positions" totalling £27m and increasing costs of almost £15m for Special Education Needs.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The BBC understands the letter was discussed by EA board members at a meeting in early August

It also points out that the EA has already "actively challenged" every line of its own business to make savings.

"EA cannot deal with the impact of declining schools' financial positions," it said.

"The latest information indicates that schools could overspend their allocations by some £30m after £20m of savings and income generation.

"Costs can only be reduced by reducing staff numbers.

"In many cases further reductions cannot reasonably be made without impacting educational outcomes and experiences."

'Bargaining tool'

The letter goes on to state that a civil servant voluntary exit scheme was limited in the change it can deliver.

"There is a need for compulsory redundancy in EA and in schools," it continues.

The BBC understands that the letter was discussed by EA board members at a meeting in early August.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said: "While the financial pressures facing the education sector in Northern Ireland are widely acknowledged, the department does not comment on ongoing correspondence or engagement between the Education Authority and DE or vice versa in relation to budget matters."

The money-saving proposals provoked political reaction from Sinn Féin MLA Caoimhe Archibald, who said cuts to essential school services were unacceptable.

"Sinn Féin has consistently challenged these proposals through direct engagement with the both the Department of Education and the Authority," she said.

"I am becoming considerably concerned that funding for these services is being used as a bargaining tool by the authority with the Department.

"We are all too aware of the financial challenges within education but this is not the way to resolve these matters."

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