Concerns raised after school transport system changes for East Sussex children with disabilities

Parents of disabled children in East Sussex have voiced their displeasure after the council awarded a school transport contract to a new company.

Monday, 26th July 2021, 11:40 am

Parents of disabled children in East Sussex have voiced their displeasure after the council awarded a school transport contract to a new company.

Nine of the council’s ‘one school’ contracts, including some of which that cater to children with learning difficulties, have recently been retendered with 24x7 Limited, which is based in Essex, being awarded seven of these – including Hazel Court School, South Downs School, Willingdon Primary School and Willingdon Community School.

The schools’ contracts were awarded to operators on a three-year contract basis with the option to extend by a year.

Ali Smith. SUS-210722-130438001

The contracts are currently let as ‘one school contracts’ where the whole school is served by a single transport company.

As of September 2021, they will have reached the end of the extended term and require renewal to remain compliant with the Public Contract Regulations 2015.

Eastbourne foster mother of two Ali Smith said, “Appalling service for little ones with severe disabilities.”

According to Mrs Smith, the current staff have built up a level of trust with parents and children over the past several years.

She said, “I have been a foster carer for 30 years. All of the children I have cared for have been transported by the same drivers and assistants.”

Mrs Smith also explained how one of her children has become very comfortable with the current setup.

She said, “The two people he wanted to come to his birthday were his driver and transport assistant.

“There are lots and lots of children with very severe mental health issues, especially after covid, that are not going to cope with a taxi driver and escort that they do not know.”

The Eastbourne woman also voiced her concerns about not being able to have an input in the decision.

Mrs Smith said, “I was really shocked.

“We have had no say in it.

“We are not even able to go and meet with council officials.”

Along with the concern about a company from outside Sussex handling the operation, Mrs Smith was also aware of the implications a new system could have on the children.

She said, “These children with severe learning difficulties need stability.

“These things are putting the families and children under a lot of pressure.

“It is really detrimental.”

Mrs Smith also spoke about how the change in system, along with the easing of lockdown, could be a lot of change at once for a child with learning difficulties.

She said, “Some of these children have been in lockdown with just two parents. Now they have got a new taxi driver and a new escort.

“How do they cope with that?

“It is ridiculous.”

“It is not acceptable for these children to go through this.”

An East Sussex County Council spokesperson said, “All of our contracts are regularly reviewed to ensure we continue to get the best value for money.

“Nine of our ‘one school’ contracts, where one provider supplies all of the vehicles and staff to a school, have been recently retendered resulting in 24x7 Limited being awarded the seven of these contracts.

“While 24x7 Limited’s head office is based in Essex, their drivers and passenger assistants will be East Sussex-based and will include those wishing to transfer from current providers under TUPE arrangements.

“24x7 Limited has a very good training programme, which is above and beyond what we specify in our contact.

“We will continue to ensure that all eligible children are provided with safe and appropriate transport that meets their needs.”

East Sussex County Council has been contacted for the full list of schools impacted.