Safety concerns continue over troubled Southend school transport service

A child with special educational needs narrowly escaped falling from a moving bus while using a disastrous Southend school transport service, it has emerged.

The incident was raised during a meeting of Southend City Council’s people scrutiny committee discussing Vecteo – a school transport company for children and adults with learning difficulties. The partnership was formed last year by the council and London Hire.

An inquiry was launched after a chaotic start, which saw vulnerable children waiting hours for school transport.

The results have yet to be published, but it is understood to contain multiple criticisms.

And this week’s meeting revealed new issues which had not been reported to council bosses .

In a written question, Louise Robinson, headteacher of Kingsdown special needs school in Southend, said: “As headteachers we are aware that there are still issues on transport that have not been shared with the council, for example a pupil opening the door of the bus as the bus was moving.

“This is a direct violation of the key performance indicators. This was not reported to the council.”

Councillors also heard that a Vecteo manager, who has since left the company, misled parents and the council by false assurances risk assessments had been undertaken when they had not.

Senior council officers also expressed their concerns about the running of Vecteo.

Brin Martin, the council’s director of education and early years, resigned from the partnership board in September.

Speaking at the meeting on Wednesday, he said: “I was raising significant concerns about the two roles which I was expected to adopt. One was paid employment as director of education, in effect client of the service, and secondly on the board of the company.

“In effect, if I was going to make a complaint, I would complain to myself.”

Tony Cox, leader of the Conservative group, said: “We wouldn’t transport cattle in the manner that we transported some of our vulnerable children and adults.”

Laurie Burton, councillor responsible for children and learning, said: “There’s no two ways about it, something went very wrong. There are still issues, but a lot of what we were seeing at the start, the real chaos, it’s not as if that that still happening.”

The committee made a number of recommendations, including a review of the Vecteo partnership.

Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter