>> 11 December 2008


At a joint meeting of the Infrastructure Services and Education, Learning & Leisure Committees earlier today, the Lib Dem and Tory administration rejected a call by the SNP Group and an independent councillor urging the Council to take the initiative in the fitting of seat belts to all school buses.

The amendment, moved by SNP transport spokesman, Cllr Graeme Clark, and seconded by Ellon & District Cllr Rob Merson, called for the Council to stipulate that 3-point age/height adjustable seatbelts must be fitted on all school transport vehicles when contracts fall due for renewal in 2010. Instead, the administration opted to seek further guidance from central government.

SNP councillor Graeme Clark said:

"Aberdeenshire Council has a great record as a leading local authority and its officers have conducted a phenomenal amount of research on this subject. That is why we called for the Joint Committee Chairs to insist on the fitting of age/height adjustable 3-point belts on school transport vehicles, to clearly present the Council's findings to Government - and to submit Aberdeenshire Council's new policy to them as a pilot model of best practice."

Cllr Fiona McRae agreed, saying:

"What we have here is yet another example of this administration's prevarication and procrastination. Rather than taking decisive action, they have chosen to abdicate their responsibility."

SNP Education spokesperson Cllr Jean Dick added:

"The councillors who voted against our amendment now have the prospect of explaining themselves to the school parent councils in their Wards - many of which had called for the very actions which we proposed."

Cllr Rob Merson commented:

"The worst-case scenario figures cited as the potential cost were a complete red herring – they worked on the basis that age/height adjustable 3-point belts would require fitting to all buses tomorrow. In fact, many of the buses currently in use are coming to the end of their operational lives, and will require to be replaced by the operators in any case."

In the closing minutes of the debate SNP Councillor Stuart Pratt called for the chairman to clarify what would happen if the Government did not issue definitive guidance or legislation in advance of the issue of tenders in 2010. The Chairman, Cllr. Richard Stroud, stated that would prevent the inclusion of a clause stipulating 3-point adjustable seatbelts for the next phase of contracts.

Speaking after the debate Cllr Stuart Pratt remarked:

"I am extremely disappointed to note that we are still debating this issue some ten years after my colleague, the late Councillor Mitchell Burnett, first put this motion to Council – and we are no further on. Cllr. Stroud's statement indicates that, having already had ten years of no action, we could be facing another seven with no prospect of resolution.

"We already know what the advice of the Westminster Government is, because MPs and MSPs who have been lobbying on this issue for the council have all received letters from the UK Department of Transport stating quite clearly that it is up to each local authority to decide how it frames its school transport contracts.

"This chronic inability of the Liberals to come to a decision is putting the safety of children at risk."

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