An independent report is expected to lay bare how the council came to employ cost-cutting consultants to cart vulnerable children around in a matter “better suited to transporting stationery”.
A draft version of the report is being sent to those who have been criticised to allow them to comment before a final version of the report is published.
The report was requested by Brighton and Hove City Council which brought in consultants Edge Public Solutions to revamp the council’s home to school transport service.
Edge was awarded a contract potentially worth almost £500,000 over two years on top of a scoping contract for a five-figure sum.
Two councillors – Mary Mears and Lee Wares – raised concerns with council chief executive Geoff Raw about the way in which the contracts were awarded and whether procurement rules may have been breached.
They were concerned that officials had adopted a process – known as a dynamic purchasing system – even though it had been specifically rejected by councillors.
The draft report by “external counsel” – an independent specialist barrister – is, the council said, being sent “to the individuals involved to allow them to comment before the report is finalised and publicly published”.
This process is known as “maxwellisation” or the “representations process” and is usually reserved only for significant criticisms that could seriously damage someone’s career or reputation.
Edge told senior officials that it could save the council £300,000 from the £2.4 million annual budget for the home to school transport service.
But the “dynamic purchasing system” recommended by Edge has since been blamed for the chaos that beset the service just over a year ago.
It went more than half a million pounds over budget and – by some estimates – nearer £1 million.
The budget has since been found to have been well below the level spent on home to school transport in comparable areas.
As a result councillors have voted to increase the budget and – after a separate independent review – they have increased staffing in the small home to school transport team.
The service looks after more than 400 of the most vulnerable children and young people in Brighton and Hove. Many of them have special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
An interim service manager Regan Delf and her team have worked hard to improve the service markedly – and to mend relations with children, parents and carers, schools and transport providers.
Initially, the council tried to blame local taxi firms for the “epic failings” of the service but it has since emerged that – but for their efforts – the problems would have been worse.
Children who required transport were not given it and missed school while others were carried in unsafe or inappropriate conditions – and, amid the chaos, vetting checks were not always carried out.
In addition, the new system led to problems at two schools in particular – Hill Park in Portslade and Downs View in Woodingdean – at the start and end of the school day.
Children missed lesson time and the school’s budgets took a six-figure hit as they were forced to redeploy staff and employ marshalls.
The latest update on the independent report is to go before the council’s Audit and Standards Committee at a “virtual” meeting which is due to start at 4pm next Tuesday (27 October). The meeting is scheduled to be webcast on the council’s website.
The committee previously accepted an internal audit report which said that the council had correctly followed processes and procedures. This report is now also the subject of criticism.
A separate report from the council’s Home to School Transport Members’ Policy Panel is due to go to the council’s Children, Young People and Skills Committee on Monday 9 November.
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