Council investigates Southend special education needs school transport

Southend Council has launched an investigation into its school transport for special educational needs children after a flood of complaints from parents.

The council is reviewing a ten year contract with Vecteo, a partnership between the council and London Hire to see if the terms of the agreement have been broken by the new service, which has seen vulnerable children waiting hours for school transport.

The council said the inquiry would review the circumstances surrounding the launch of Vecteo.

Laurie Burton, councillor responsible for children and learning, said: “The home to school transport service experienced significant issues when it launched in September this year, but improvements have been made following this challenging period.

“The contract for this service is with Vecteo and is for an initial ten year period, with the option to extend it by a further five years. The service continues to work through an improvement programme as it heads towards the high-quality service that the children in our borough deserve.”

Cllr Burton added: “The council has started an internal review into the circumstances behind the challenges, and this will lead to a ‘lessons learnt’ report being produced so similar issues can be avoided in the future.

“The council has also asked its internal audit team to undertake a review of Vecteo’s current performance levels against the specific requirements of the contract and this is currently in progress.”

The service had been run by 24×7 school transport before being handed over to Vecteo following a procurement process. The council owns 49 per cent of the joint venture company.

Problems emerged from the start with parents reporting children with autism being left waiting hours for school buses or asked to get into taxis alone without assistants during a the handover of the system.

The council is about to undergo a peer review into its special educational needs service following a series of complaints from parents.

Cllr Tony Cox, leader of the council’s Conservative group has a special educational needs child. He said: “We know Vecteo hasn’t serviced its contractual obligations from day one. They can’t do it but it’s not just about Vecteo, the council is a partner so doesn’t lose the risk. If we did pull the plug on the contract at the moment there wouldn’t be a transport service.

“This investigation needs to be a proper internal audit and one that is separate to the special educational needs investigation that is going to take place.”

Julia Caro, who has been at odds with the council over its special needs provision in general, said: “It’s deeply concerning because once again we see no reason why it won’t be micro-managed and controlled by those who should be under investigation themselves.

“It’s just burning money to get nowhere.”

Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter