Brighton and Hove City Council has been accused of hiding its plans to cut £1 million from the home to school transport budget for hundreds of vulnerable children.
Opposition Conservative councillors said that the details of the two-year cost-cutting programme had emerged only after a “freedom of information” request forced the council’s hand.
They said: “Conservative councillors have forced the Labour administration to reveal that it is slashing the school transport budget for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) by nearly £1 million over the next two years.
“The figures show that in the next two years in delivering a saving of £288,000, Labour will spend £625,000 of which £499,000 will be paid to consultants, Edge Public Solutions.
“The total savings and costs of £913,000 will all come from the school transport budget.”
Councillor Lee Wares said: “At last we have been able to expose the full extent of the cuts to school transport that Labour has been desperately trying to suppress.
“A transparent and open administration should not have to be forced by councillors using freedom of information legislation.
“That said, given these shocking figures of nearly a million pounds being taken from children, it is no wonder they tried to hide the detail from the public.”
Councillor Mary Mears said: “Leading Labour councillors have repeatedly stated that this is not about cuts and children with special educational needs and disabilities should not be affected. Yet they are doing precisely that.
“Parents and carers will be outraged to hear that at a time they have no transport, or their children with complex needs are being squeezed into vehicles and being transported for too long, this Labour administration on the one hand says sorry and, on the other, oversees the cuts that are causing the problems.”
The Tory leader Councillor Steve Bell said: “The former chair of the Children, Young People and Skills Committee, Councillor Nick Childs, recently said he would not defend petty bourgeois monopolies and hand out lavish contracts around school transport.
“Yet he and the new chair, Councillor John Allcock, employ consultants that will be paid half a million pounds if they meet the savings targets they are employed to manage and deliver.
“Surely the focus must be on providing the best possible transport solution for children rather than consultants driving down costs to ensure their fee is paid.”
The council said: “All families assessed as needing home to school transport will continue to receive the services they are entitled to. There has been no change to children or young people’s eligibility for the services and no cuts to provision.
“In spring of this year all of the council’s transport services were reviewed. With regard to home to school transport, the view was that by creating an in-house transport team, responsible for the back office tasks such as liaison with parents and schools, organising the routes and managing the contracts with transport operators directly, there would be both improvements in the service provided, alongside efficiencies in terms of costs.
“It was also felt that there would be greater accountability for the process if we were less dependent on private operators to do this administrative work in the future.
“The actual provision of transport was always intended to remain with local companies.
“Edge were contracted for a maximum of two years to assist with setting up and development of the in-house processes.
“Clearly in the short term there have been problems and we are still working really hard to resolve them. We are very sorry for the disruption some families have experienced.
“The independent review we are commissioning into the circumstances behind this will, among other things, consider whether Edge’s work for us has in any way contributed to the current situation.
“If Edge’s work is found not to have met contractual expectations and has contributed to the current difficulties, we will take appropriate action under the terms of the contract.
“The projected reductions in costs will come from having new and more efficient purchasing and management systems, ultimately co-ordinated and run by an in-house team, rather than through any reduction in services.”
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