New transport contract could put vulnerable children at risk, fear councillors

Posted On 28 May 2019 at 6:44 am

A cost-cutting new transport contract could place vulnerable children from Brighton and Hove at risk, according to concerned councillors.

Potential bidders and their staff were told by Brighton and Hove City Council that they did not need prior training or experience in caring for or transporting children with special needs.

Nor were they even expected to meet the standards required of taxi and private hire drivers and which are set out in a council document known as the Blue Book.

The lower service standards are understood to be part of a drive to reduce costs when the new contractor or contractors are appointed.

The £12 million four-year contract was advertised last month but concerns among parents, carers and existing transport bosses have prompted two councillors to call for a halt to the process.

Conservative councillors Lee Wares and Mary Mears have written to the council’s executive director for families, children and learnkng, Pinaki Ghoshal, and Richard Barker, head of school organisation.

They wrote: “It has come to our attention that there is growing concern over the proposed tendering of services to transport vulnerable children (and) young people and those with special educational needs or mobility problems between home and school.

“While acknowledging the city faces a number of challenges and priorities, the safeguarding and welfare of our children must at all times remain in the forefront of our decision-making.

“Inter alia the concerns we have, two seem to be contrary to the wellbeing of the children and young people and those that are transporting them.

“Firstly, we understand that organisations and/or individuals transporting children do not need to have any prior training.

“That training extending to how to treat or move individuals, how to recognise problems, how to respond to issues or how to get them into and out of vehicles.

“Essentially, there is no requirement to have any understanding, appreciation or qualification to be responsible for, care for or transport vulnerable children or young people with special education needs or mobility problems including their physical, personality or mental challenges.

“Equally there seems no need to have an infrastructure or capability to undertake risk assessments and know how best to work with the council in managing the service.

Councillor Lee Wares

“Secondly, Brighton and Hove City Council has via the Blue Book one of if not the highest standards in regulating transport operators and drivers.

“We understand that service providers will not have to meet those standards.

“It seems counter-intuitive, if not absurd, that the council requires such high standards to transport the general public with many being highly capable and independent yet is prepared to allow the transport of our most vulnerable by operators who will not meet those same standards.

“Respectfully, it seems a grave error in judgment that may leave the council culpable should anything untoward occur not least the impact on those in the council’s care.

“We believe that this situation is so important that notwithstanding how any previous decision got to the stage the council is at, this project should be suspended forthwith.

“It would seem that the most appropriate course of action to take right now is for the council to consider how it can continue with existing transport providers (even if that means securing contracts for another 12 months) and use that time to reconsider its options.

“Further, we believe that our duty of care to these children and young people is of such gravitas that the decision should be made via a report to full council where all councillors are able to contribute and decide the best and most appropriate way forward, whatever that might be.

“We would be grateful to receive your urgent response.”

Councillor Mary Mears

Proposals to save sums of £30,000 or more a year have appeared in the past two council budgets, with a significant overspend having been reported in the 2015-16 financial year.

But in an equality impact assessment in this year’s budget said: “Significant savings have been achieved in previous years in transport and overall cost compares well with other councils.

“A further small saving of £39,000 is planned for 2019-20 from an overall gross budget of £2.5 million to be achieved across the full range of work undertaken within the School Organisation Team.”

A year earlier councillors were told that 354 children with special education needs, disability or mobility problems received assistance travelling to and from school.

One of the challenges for the council is that the cost of providing transport is “demand-led”.

Another challenge is that many of the rules affecting the council in this area are set nationally rather than locally.

But disquiet on this issue comes as teachers, parents and carers of children with special educational needs and/or disabilities are growing more concerned about the impact of spending cuts affecting those children.

  1. Unknown Reply

    Why try and fix something that isn’t broken the company that have are currently transporting theses young people have done for 30 years why change it now.

    You have no idea how much the lady in the office does all by herself and the lady at the council does all by her self to theses two young ladies are amazing what the plan and arrange .

    You have no idea what equipment you need to transport some of the more challenging ones .

  2. Concerned. Reply

    So the Able bodied paying customers will receive a higher standard of trained driver then the most Vulnerable children in society, and this is proposed by Richard Barker the Children’s officer for the council with Councillors concerns about HIS decision to try and save money by reducing the standards that Brighton & Hove council Licencing committee places on the Taxi companies!!!

    I hope our newly elected Labour Leader Nancy Platts sorts this out so everyone no matter who they are have the high standards Brighton & Hove council have strived for.

  3. Jean Smith Reply

    Left hand and right hand …

  4. Jean Smith Reply

    By my reckoning, the council will spend about 20per cent more per year when the new contract starts (£3m vs £2.5m), but then again there’s been a reorganisation of special schools, with the closure of Patcham House, and some children now having to travel greater distances. It’s hardly joined up government.

  5. Peter Reply

    There are many new operators who do meet the same standards, some even higher. There should be minimum standards for sure, but this should not restrict trade to the current contractors only. Tendering offers a fair platform to distribute work and strategically reduce costs, rather than relying on a handful of contractors who then have the council hostage and can charge what they want.

    • Mother of a child Reply

      But no other company have the passenger attended or medical and behaviour knowledge of all theses children like the current company does . They have held the contract for over 25 years and do an amazing job.

      Changing children’s transport such as new driver and different students mixing with out people knowing who can and can’t share a taxi is a Disaster waiting to happen and it’s not fair on the family’s that have to deal with there children’s massive change being off school for 6 weeks is had enough let alone coming back to a different driver and they won’t be able to commit to the same driver every day unlike the current transport company

  6. Doubting Thomas Reply

    Interesting Peter. Which new operators have a higher standard than B&H cabbies?

  7. Peter Reply

    There are plenty of operators who adhere to the county council framework, a rigorous process which goes above and beyond local blue book. This includes to name a few merits; regular audits, very stringent GDPR, routine weekly vehicle & driver checks … all of which are not required under local licensing.

    It’s not that the requirements shouldn’t be high, but restricting the trade to current contractors defeats the point of the tendering process, a fair procedure designed to reduce costs … not necessarily reducing standards.

    • Lisa Reply

      Everyone is forgetting who the important people are in this and it’s the young children and there family’s NOT MONEY keep the same company they are outstanding with my children and others they go above and beyond the connection they have with each school and the knowledge is incredible .

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