Southend school transport audit reveals safeguarding concerns

A damning report has criticised a series of safeguarding issues at a controversial school bus service for children with special educational needs in Southend.

Southend Council has published the results of an audit carried out on Vecteo, a partnership between London Hire and the council, to transport special educational needs children to school.

The report by leading auditors, Pricewaterhousecoopers, said few of Vecteo’s performance targets were met following its launch last year.

The company has come under fire for leaving autistic children waiting hours for buses and other safety issues.

The report revealed London Hire, which has a £2million annual contract with the council, hired sub-contractors to ferry children but Vecteo was not able to say how many children were being transported, by which sub-contractor and on what route.

A system of tracking has since been introduced with sub-contractors expected to report daily to Vecteo.

The report states: “Limited evidence could be provided of Vecteo’s management of sub-contractors and it had also failed to record complaints properly and safeguarding was a significant concern.”

It adds: “There was a significant safeguarding issue in September 2021 relating to a medical incident experienced by a child on board one of Vecteo’s vehicles.

“There were also complaints regarding other potential safeguarding issues, where parents believed that passenger assistants did not have the training or expertise to meet children’s medical needs.

“Whilst Vecteo and the council both believe that safeguarding issues have significantly reduced since September, parents remain concerned that a safeguarding risk remains.”

Steven Wakefield, councillor responsible, said: “Following the serious failings in September 2021 when the Vecteo contract started, one of the four resolutions agreed by council in November 2021 was to have an independent audit carried out by Pricewaterhousecoopers.

“That independent report will be discussed in full at audit committee on July 20, however we do know that since the audit was carried out last year, the service is much improved.”

Mr Wakefield added: “The staff, including drivers and passenger assistants, have worked tirelessly to make those improvements and continue to strive towards a quality service.”

“As we keep repeating, our priority is maintaining a safe, home to school transport service for our children with special educational needs and disabilities.”

Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter