Cost-cutting school transport consultants walk away with £180k

Posted On 18 May 2020 at 10:11 am

Cost-cutting home to school transport consultants walked away with £181,000 from Brighton and Hove City Council despite blowing a £1 million hole in the budget.

And changes brought in by Edge Public Consultants left dozens of vulnerable children unable to get to school or with inappropriate or unsafe transport.

The company has been given a £60,000 payoff and allowed to retain payments of £121,000 that it had already received.

Conservative councillor Lee Wares said: “This is an incredible outcome that takes more money away from helping vulnerable children and families.”

He said that he and his colleagues had spent months trying to get answers from the Labour-run council as to whether it was in dispute with Edge.

Now, he said, Conservative councillors had seen documents released in answer to their Freedom of Information request.

Those papers disclose that the council entered into an early termination agreement with Edge that allowed the consultancy to walk away from the chaotic changes with £181,000 in total.

The Conservatives said: “Edge were engaged by the council to set up and implement a new home to school transport service for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) with the remit to cut costs.

“Their contract was success-based, meaning that if they didn’t achieve any savings they would not receive a fee.

“In fact, this criterion was key to Labour accepting their tender bid as it presented a low risk to the taxpayer.

“Other papers seen by the Conservative group also show that Edge was the only consultant to submit a bid for the work.”

Councillor Lee Wares

The Conservatives said: “In the event, after less than six months of the new service starting, major issues arose in the delivery of the service that led to a forecast £1.2 million overspend of the budget that Edge was commissioned to reduce.”

Councillor Wares said “This is an incredible outcome that takes more money away from helping vulnerable children and families.

“Labour seem to advise that it was cheaper to agree the settlement payments as they were less than the legal costs associated with a dispute.

“That suggests the contract was ill-advised to agree and should never have been rushed. Probably more to the point, Labour were culpable for the diabolical delivery of the service, being more intent on political ideology than putting children first.”

Councillor Wares added: “This is systematic in the Labour council. When Uber didn’t deliver on the contract for the BikeShare scheme, Labour let them keep £30,000 rather than fight for it back.

“Labour cannot be trusted with agreeing contracts and, while it pleads poverty and puts up council tax, it throws away £210,000 on just two contracts and overspends a £2.4 million budget by £1.2 million.”

Councillor Mary Mears

Councillor Mary Mears said: “No wonder Labour wanted to keep this secret. This is a further damning indictment of their handling of this service which the Local Government Association has recently condemned Labour over.

“While the Parent Carers’ Council struggles to find suitable funding from the council to work for children and families needing this service, the council wastes enough money that would keep PaCC properly funded for many years. It is disgraceful.

“It is also now worrying that the scrutiny panel that was set up to investigate the issues is now stalling.

“The council agreed this panel should be held during these difficult times but it seems the Greens, who chair it, have lost a sense of urgency and interest.”

Conservative leader Steve Bell said: “There are many issues around this subject that need to be investigated and we will continue to try to get to the bottom of this deep and murky pond.

“Labour cannot be so cavalier with such vast sums of money and just shrug their shoulders. I guess it is easy for them when they are using other people’s money.”

  1. Rob Arbery Reply

    This is the job we all want totally b*lls it all up and still walk away with a fortune. Why would the council pay them anything. Let them take you to court – Edge totally failed in their remit and there is no way they would want this even more public, and no way they could win in court. Scandalous

  2. Pippa Hodge Reply

    Which budget has the payoff money come from? Please can the Local Authority confirm that this “hush” money hasn’t been taken out of the SEND pot.

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