Calls for Southend school transport review

An independent investigation into Southend’s new “shambolic” school transport contract, which has led to scores of complaints, must take place, councillors claim.

On Tuesday, the council’s people scrutiny committee received an update on an independent review of special educational needs (SEN) children’s services.

The service has come under fire from parents, as has the council’s new SEN home to school contact with Vecteo, which led to chaos last month as children returned to school.

Children with autism were left waiting hours for school buses or asked to get into taxis alone without assistants during a the handover of the system.

A review of the handover could be included in the upcoming review of SEN services, but councillors have insisted it should be probed independently.

John Lamb, Conservative councillor for West Leigh ward said the situation was “putting out children and a number of other people at risk”.

Speaking at the scrutiny meeting, he said: “I think it’s diabolical what has gone on, that we’ve got into this position by a new contractor who should have already been looked at and in fact assessed on whether we should use them or not.

“We appear to have left a big hole which we have fallen into and we are now responsible for and I would like to make sure that going to be covered so that lessons really are learnt for future contracts, especially when it affects our children.”

Vecteo is a joint venture between Southend Council and London Hire Community Services.

Parents were left furious at their children returned to the classroom, with parents from St Christopher’s School in Leigh slamming the new firm.

Cllr Lamb added: “I think it is important that we keep these two items separate in that we do investigate them, and thoroughly investigate them separately, and not try and link them in and blind wash everything out of it so that we can say oh well this impacted on that.

“I certainly would be looking for separate reports on what had gone on.

The committee heard the peer review will take place at the end of November, with a report sent to councillors by the end of the year.

Suitably qualified people from other separate authorities have been lined up to carry out the review.

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Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter