Revealed: Cost-cutting school transport consultants paid £75k in two months

Posted On 16 Sep 2019 at 3:25 pm

Cost-cutting consultants were paid £75,000 within two months for their work on the new home to school transport contracts in Brighton and Hove.

They are understood to be in line for further payments.

The result of the new contracts has been described as “a fiasco” and “chaos”, with dozens of vulnerable children missing school and having their safety placed at risk.

Two members of Brighton and Hove City Council said last week that they had been gagged when they asked to reveal how much was being paid to consultancy firm Edge Public Solutions.

Edge has been engaged to drive down the cost of transporting hundreds of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) to and from school in Brighton and Hove.

One parent said that their approach appeared to treat the children as though they were cardboard boxes rather than vulnerable children with special needs.

The consultants are being paid to save money on the £3 million-a-year contracts which started just as children went back to school almost a fortnight ago.

The service was budgeted at less than £2.5 million a year under the old arrangements although it was £210,000 over budget in the 2018-19 financial year.

Former council leader Mary Mears and fellow Conservative councillor Lee Wares have been trying to found out why the council switched from a few trusted and reliable local operators.

And they want to know how much the new contracts are costing and how much the consultants are receiving for a service that has led to the council issuing an “unreserved” apology.

Part of the blame for rising costs is down to rising demand for the service. This has been broadly in keeping with the increase in the wider school population but there are concerns that the consultancy fees have merely added to the costs.

Now, Brighton and Hove News can reveal that four payments totalling £74,615.01 were made in just over four weeks in June and July.

The figures were published by the council on its website in line with its legal duty to set out details of all spending above £500.

Under the set up favoured by the consultants – a “dynamic purchasing system” aimed at stimulating competition to drive down prices – chaos has ensued as under-prepared contractors pulled out at the last minute.

This has left dozens of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) stranded at home, missing school or arriving late.

Children’s safety has been placed at risk with Rob Arbery, chair of governors at Hill Park special school, in Portslade, saying that – in 11 years as a governor – he had never known such chaos at the school gates.

When BBC reporter Ben Weisz went along to see the situation for himself, taxis and minibuses were queuing in a narrow and busy road – and a child tried to make off from one of the vehicles.

This would not have been the first time a vulnerable child had made it into the road while waiting to be escorted into school.

Under the old system, the escorts in taxis and minibuses ensured that youngsters made it safely into their classrooms.

Now teachers and teaching assistants are having to come out and fetch them, making the process slower, more expensive for schools and eating into lesson and therapy times.

While the council has apologised for the mess, it said that it could take four weeks to put right.

This afternoon (Monday 16 September) councillors are expected to discuss the problems when the council’s Children, Young People and Skills Committee meets at Hove Town Hall.

  1. Rob Arbery Reply

    Talk about money for old rope. If the Council has any common sense they would cancel the contract with Edge solutions and make them hand back the money.

  2. Pippa Hodge Reply

    Just sat through the Children & Young People’s Committee Meeting to hear that the LA’s response to this dangerous and disruptive chaos is that they will try to sort it out in another 4 weeks, pay a bit of petrol money to families, then get another local authority to do a review that will report back in JANUARY! Presumably then, in due course, B&H will return the ‘favour’ when the other Local Authority needs a truly ‘independent’ review?! We aren’t asking for a peer to peer exercise we want FULL DISCLOSURE of the process by which our LA have been allowed to spend so much of our scarce city money on consultants rather than the actual service that should be safely, consistently and calmly taking some of the city’s most vulnerable children and young people to and from their education. “Edge Solutions” – great branding – your transport routes and solutions are bordering on criminal negligence and you’ve certainly left young passengers and their families on the edge….:.

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