A new school transport contract has been slammed for “putting vulnerable children’s lives at risk” after dozens of parents and carers shared their experiences.
At least 30 children have been left without vital transport to and from Downs View and Hill Park special schools. Yesterday 15 Hill Park children were left stranded at home.
Two councillors have been to see for themselves the scenes described by one veteran chair of governors as “chaos”.
Councillors Mary Mears and Lee Wares said: “We are troubled that this council is potentially putting the lives, mental and physical wellbeing and safeguarding of children with special educational needs and disabilities and vulnerable adults are at risk.”
Children with learning difficulties have been seen banging their heads against the windows inside taxis as they face waits of up to half an hour outside their schools.
One parent refused to let their child go in the council’s transport again until the mess is sorted out because of safety fears.
And in another case a parent heard nothing about a child’s lift because the council had been liaising with the child’s other parent despite a restraining order having been imposed.
Since the new cost-cutting contracts for 320 pupils came in last week dozens of children have missed school because vital transport failed to arrive.
And teachers are each estimated to be missing well over an hour of classroom every day because escorts are not allowed to bring the children into school under the new contracts.
In once case two taxis were sent but the first couldn’t take the child’s wheelchair and the second was too small despite the parent having sent in the measurements.
A third taxi was promised but never showed up.
Children with conflicting needs are being carried together because – one parent said – the routes appear to have been drawn up to save money in the short term.
The parent added that if even one parent sued Brighton and Hove City Council, any proposed savings could be wiped out.
Single parents were reported to be missing work and putting their jobs at risk, potentially costing the public purse more than any saving to the council.
Former council leader Mary Mears and her Conservative colleague Lee Wares have written to council chief executive Geoff Raw in the hope of bringing their concerns to the Children, Young People and Skills Committee next Monday (16 September).
When they last tried to ask about the new contracts, the committee’s former chair, Councillor Nick Childs, said that he wasn’t in the business of defending “petty bourgeois local monopolies”.
But the Labour councillor has been accused of defending instead a private contractor from the north west, Edge Public Solutions. Edge was brought into save money by handing the previously well-run local service to outside firms.
Councillor Childs’s remarks were believed to have been a reference to City Cabs, the Brighton and Hove taxi firm which previously ran a service being universally praised by parents.
But parents criticised the current “shambles”, with one saying: “Before, it was properly co-ordinated. Now with several contractors, they’re all turning up at once.
“The children aren’t meant to be waiting more than five minutes before being taken into school but it’s been almost half an hour.”
One taxi driver “off-loaded children on the street because they could not access the school grounds or secure a staff member”.
The council was accused of planning a transport service designed to carry not kids but cardboard boxes.
Councillors Mears and Wares said that all 54 members of the council had a duty of care as corporate parents that the council was currently breaching.
Despite asking questions of officials for months, parents and the two councillors said that little or no proper information had been given in reply.
In their letter to Mr Raw, the Councillors Mears and Wares said: “It is our collective responsibility to ensure this service is delivered properly and appropriately.
“It is our duty to collectively oversee and scrutinise the situation, acting swiftly and radically if necessary to put things right.
“It is the administration’s responsibility to make this happen and through this committee (Children, Young People and Skills) we hope that you will agree to our request for the sake of those that are impacted by the school transport service.”
An earlier version of this story included one observer reporting that a child had arrived at school with their hands taped together.
Downs View executive head Adrian Carver said: “The child with ‘taped hands’ is a Downs View pupil. The situation is longstanding, is not a safeguarding or safety issue and is certainly nothing to do with the current substantial difficulties and issues around home to school transport.
“It is an agreed approach which enables someone (at their choice not imposed) as a means to support behavioural and sensory self-regulation. It is not something which is undertaken by the vehicle crew.”