Southend SEND school bus service on verge of going bust asks for council bail-out

A school bus service has called on Southend City Council to provide a £392,000 bail-out to prevent it going bust within weeks.

Vecteo, which provides school transport for special educational needs and disabled children in Southend, is said to be losing an astonishing £100,000 a month according to a leaked report.

The report is due to be discussed behind closed doors in a cabinet meeting on Friday due to “financial confidentiality”.

The documents reveal Vecteo finished the financial year in deficit by almost £700,000 – with inflation and the pandemic blamed as key reasons.

The company needs £800,000 by the end of July and London Hire – which owns 51 per cent of the business – is seeking the council’s share to be paid by then.

Vecteo will run out of cash by the end of July and will cease trading, leaving staff and suppliers unpaid if the council does not agree to the request.

The council would also be left with no service.

The company is said to be drawing up a new business plan.

Tony Cox, leader of the Conservative Group in Southend, has a daughter with special educational needs. He said: “It’s been a disaster from the start.

“We’ve had catastrophic failures.”

Colin Nickless who also has children with special needs, added: “This report highlights further evidence of a company not only failing financially, but one with a continued history of safeguarding failures that put vulnerable children at risk.

“The council knew of these failures for months, but hasn’t acted and now they are affectively being held to ransom by their own company.”

Steven Wakefield, Southend councillor responsible for transport, said: “I would like to reassure residents that our priority is maintaining a safe, home to school transport service for our children with special education needs and disabilities.

“The council continues to support Vecteo and the valued staff who have worked tirelessly to make vast improvements since the service launched in September 2021 and continue to strive towards a quality service.”

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Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter