The budget for taking vulnerable children to and from school looks like being given a £1 million boost after cost-cutting consultants walked away from their contract with the council.
And more staff are expected to join the small team in charge of transporting 470 children and young people – most with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) – in safety every day.
The home to school transport service ended up almost £1 million over its £2.4 million annual budget in the year to the end of March.
And the service is forecast to go £1.2 million over budget in the current 2020-21 financial year, according to an official report.
The overspending followed wholesale changes recommended by Edge Public Consultants who were brought in by Brighton and Hove City Council to try to save £300,000 a year from the service.
The changes included a new approach to school transport contracts even though it had been rejected by councillors. And even the way the contract for Edge was procured has given rise to significant concerns.
Now a report to the council’s Special Policy and Resources Committee meeting, scheduled for next Wednesday (27 May), calls for a bigger budget – in line with other councils.
The report said: “The introduction of the new system was rushed and serious problems resulted with the service from September 2019.
“Although most were resolved for November, some persist – and there has been a very significant loss of trust and confidence in the system and council from families and transport operators.”
More children are eligible for help, the report said, and the proposed budget increase would still mean that the service in Brighton and Hove cost about £200,000 a year less than for comparable councils.
The report said: “The service struggles with capacity issues and has done since before the summer of 2019.
“New temporary leadership capacity from mid-January 2020 has enabled significant progress to be made in areas of concern, with robust planning for September 2020.
“However, the covid-19 crisis has brought new uncertainties and challenges to the sustainability of current services.
“The service needs to undertake a range of complex tasks over the next few months, notably
- meet the wide-ranging recommendations of an independent review
- secure new systems to ensure arrangements for September 2020 are not a repeat of the inadequate services in September 2019
- respond to the covid-19 pandemic and the significant difficulties raised for safe transport of highly vulnerable children in terms of social distancing, cleaning vehicles to prevent contamination and PPE (personal protective equipment) for transport staff
- ensure the sustainability of transport firms and staff over the school closure period, with many facing considerable financial difficulty
- introduce more robust contract management and compliance monitoring to ensure best value and improved budgetary control
“In a high-profile and high-risk area, recruitment to new posts needs to take place as a matter of priority to secure the improvements needed.
“The service has been through a period of turbulence and needs to regain the trust and confidence of the community and stakeholders.”
Dozens of children with special educational needs and disabilities were left without any transport or with inappropriate or unsafe transport, according to complaints – some for many weeks.
Before schools closed because of the coronavirus, eight firms took some 470 children and young people, most with complex special educational needs and disabilities, to school, operating almost 180 routes.
The Special Policy and Resources Committee meeting is scheduled to start at 4pm next Wednesday (27 May) and is due to be webcast.
To view the webcast, click here.
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