Monday, May 20, 2024

Anger as small shops lose out in free schoolbook scheme

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Schoolbook sellers have appealed to the Minister for Education to make changes to the way the free schoolbook scheme is implemented – warning that smaller, independent traders are losing out on business to bigger competitors.

Free schoolbooks for children was widely welcomed by many, including the booksellers, but its administration is having unintended consequences.

The group representing schoolbook shops, Bookselling Ireland, say eight shops have closed since October and it expects more will follow.

The Treasury in New Ross, Co Wexford, has become the latest to shut its doors for good.

It has been selling schoolbooks on Bridge Street in the town for over 30 years.

For owner, Barbara Kehoe, today is one of mixed emotions.

“Am very tearful, heartbroken,” she said.

“And an anger as well, over how a government policy could be rolled out without a thought for small business.”

Smaller booksellers say they have been driven out because they cannot compete with bigger book suppliers that offer bigger discounts.

“Schools now have to get quotations and even tenders if it’s over €50,000, but they have to go with the cheapest supplier – select the lowest,” Ms Kehoe said.

“A small business on the side of the road in New Ross is not able to complete with the big corporations who are out there.”

The Treasury bookshop owner Barbara Kehoe

What makes matters worse for Ms Kehoe, was that her business was going well.

2022 was their best year yet, and this this time 12 months ago, they picked up a county enterprise award.

But she says the introduction of the free book scheme had a detrimental effect.

A former teacher, she supports the policy but says small businesses like hers have been hit badly by the way it has been implemented.

Bookselling Ireland is warning of further closures and says changing it to a voucher system would preserve the footfall to bookshops and spread the cost and workload across the summer.

In response, the Department of Education says it has been engaging with Bookselling Ireland over the last 18 months and will continue to do so.

In a statement, it also said, schools, like other organisations that receive public sector funding, have obligations that stem from both EU and national public procurement rules when sourcing goods and services.

From September, the scheme will be extended to Junior Cycle students – benefitting over 200,000 pupils and their families.

For The Treasury bookshop though, their story is over.

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