Dáil Éireann - Volume 656 - 05 June, 2008

Written Answers. - Water Charges.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of primary schools that have informed his Department of their inability to pay the local authority water charges; the number who have requested funding to cover these costs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22331/08]

  Deputy Batt O’Keeffe: The Primary Administration Section of my Department has received correspondence from about 13 primary schools in relation to the water charges issue and the additional cost pressure that this puts on them.

General cost pressures on all schools, including those arising from water charges, are being dealt with in the context of the Government commitment to improve funding for the day-to-day running costs of schools. Specific commitments in relation to improving school funding form a central part of the education provisions of the Programme for Government. These commitments are a direct follow on from the clear thrust of Government policy over recent years to improve the position of schools and primary schools in particular by doubling the capitation grant.

In the context of reducing water costs for schools, it has been demonstrated that fitting simple water saving devices to toilets and sinks can reduce water consumption considerably at very little cost, as can other small works such as fixing easily identifiable leaks. Primary school authorities may use their annual minor works grant to fund such measures. The minor works grant has increased by nearly 50% over the past two years and some €27m issued to primary schools at the end of last year for that purpose.

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 exists. In addition, water conservation issues will continue to be addressed by my Department as a matter of [591] routine where new schools are being built or where major renovations are being carried out to existing schools under the schools modernisation programme. Furthermore those schools with very high water consumption will be identified and contacted with a view to introducing measures to help them reduce water usage.

My Department remains in close liaison with the Department of Environment 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.