Emergency special needs transport contract extended

Waltham Forest Council has extended an emergency contract for transporting children with special needs to school after the previous provider pulled out “at very short notice”.

According to the council, its previous home-to-school transport provider CT Plus abruptly ended its £3.4m per year contract as rising costs meant the deal was “no longer viable”.

This forced the council into an emergency procurement exercise that saw the new contract – now worth up to £5.5m per year – awarded to competitor HATS Group.

Last week, the council’s cabinet agreed to extend HATS’ contract to 2025, with cabinet member for children and young people Alastair Strathern saying he was “blown away” by how few issues there have been with the new contractor.

He added that putting the contract back out for procurement could risk further complications with “mobilisation” and that the market for transporting children with special needs is “not very competitive at the moment”.

The council is legally required to transport children with eligible needs to and from school and held its contract with CT Plus for a number of years.

According to a report before cabinet “unprecedented high fuel costs and inflation” mean the contract is likely to be more expensive, but that the terms and conditions include a “flexibility to reduce costs” in the future.

The report also notes that similar contracts for neighbouring boroughs cost between £4.9m and 10m, meaning the service with HATS is “good value for money”.

Last August the BBC reported that CT Plus’ owner HCT Group also pulled out of providing bus services in West and South Yorkshire – announcing “there is nothing further to be done” due to fuel and labour cost increases.

HATS has a number of contracts to transport vulnerable adults and children with local authorities and the NHS. In 2021/22 its profits doubled to £21m.

Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter