Council knew of Southend special needs school transport problems from day one

Southend Council knew a shambolic school transport service for children with special educational needs and vulnerable adults did not have enough staff from “day one”, it has been revealed.

The council set up Vecteo, a joint venture company formed with London Hire Community Services, following a tender process.

The service had been run by 24×7 school transport.

The council owns 49 per cent of Vecteo, which has been dogged with complaints from distraught parents and carers from the outset.

Since the service began in August there have been reports of children with autism and others left waiting hours for school buses.

In response to a letter written to the council on behalf of a resident who had suffered as a result of what has been described as an “appalling” service, Anna Eastgate, executive director of neighbourhoods and environment admitted there had been problems transferring staff under the TUPE system, which protects workers during a change of management and company ownership.

She said: “There have been a series of failures since Vecteo commenced service delivery.

“These are completely unacceptable, and we have been working extremely hard with them to improve the service, as well as holding them to account. Unfortunately, the combination of a challenging TUPE transfer as well as a national shortage of qualified drivers, meant that Vecteo were not able to meet their contractual obligations on day one in full.

“This included not being able to fully engage with parents and carers about this new service provision. This is extremely disappointing and regretful.”

Cllr Tony Cox, leader of the Conservative group, said: “I am absolutely stunned that they knew from day one they would not be able to deliver the service.

“These are some of the most vulnerable adults and children.

“This is quite a staggering admission.

“Even if it is a joint venture the council still has a legal obligation. There is no escaping, whether they are in a partnership or not, they knew they couldn’t fulfil their duty. It’s deeply troubling.”

Laurie Burton, cabinet member for children and learning, said: “Whilst some issues were expected with this first contract change in over ten years, and a number of contingency plans have been put into operation to deal with these issues, we have acknowledged that these did not resolve all of the problems encountered as quickly needed.

“We’ve all been working hard to resolve any outstanding issues as quickly and as effectively as possible.

“We all deeply regret the quality of service some children using home to school transport received at the beginning of the school year which is simply not acceptable, and are sorry for the distress and upset caused.  We continue to focus on improvements to get the service up to the best possible standard.”

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Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter