A taxi firm has been dropped from Brighton and Hove City council’s troubled home to school transport service with immediate effect.
The council has been contacting the parents and carers of dozens of children who are affected by the sudden decision to end the contract.
The firm was accused of breaking not just the terms of its contract with the council but licensing and insurance laws that are intended to protect passengers.
Yesterday morning (Thursday 16 January) information was passed to councillors and council officers alleging that a home to school transport operator was breaking taxi licencing laws, invalidating the drivers’ insurance.
Conservative councillors Mary Mears and Lee Wares alerted council chief executive Geoff Raw and asked him to investigate the allegations urgently and report any criminal offences to Sussex Police.
The two councillors also urged the council to investigate fully how dozens of routes could have been affected in this way.
The home to school transport service involves providing taxis and minibuses for hundreds of the most vulnerable children in Brighton and Hove.
Since new arrangements were brought in from the start of last autumn term, the service has been beset by problems.
Councillor Mears, a former leader of the council, said: “We received information that alleged that taxi licensing laws were being broken that might invalidate insurance for drivers and vehicles transporting vulnerable children under the council’s home to school transport contract.
“Information also alleged that drivers and escorts might not have the necessary training and criminal record checks.
“It was further alleged that these criminal offences and potential safeguarding risks might have been ongoing since September last year.
“If these allegations are true, the council must be equally culpable for allowing this to happen.
“We raised the risks back in July last year. Since then we have had numerous briefings, committee reports and advice from officers stating that checks had been carried out and were ongoing.
“It would appear that either the checks were not being done properly, not at all or false information was being provided to the council.”
Councillor Wares said: “We’ve asked the chief executive when the council became aware of these alleged offences and potential safeguarding risks – and how long did the council allowed these to continue before it acted.
“While Labour and the Greens pursue their ‘independent review’ and engineer a ‘scrutiny panel’ to deliberately avoid uncovering the truth on this whole fiasco, real safeguarding issues are potentially going on right under their noses.
“They can play down or deny the problems but doing this has already led to a budget overspend that could reach £1 million – and this is after they took on consultants on a £500,000 contract to find savings.
“At some point they are going to have to realise that their efforts to defend the indefensible are potentially putting vulnerable children at risk.”