Agenda item - Use of Urgency Powers in Relation to Transport for Vulnerable Children and Adults

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Agenda item

Use of Urgency Powers in Relation to Transport for Vulnerable Children and Adults

Report of the Executive Director Families Children & Learning (copy attached)

Decision:

RESOLVED: That the Committee noted the decision had been taken by the Executive Director Families, Children & Learning to procure and award a Dynamic Purchasing System (DPS) and call off contracts for the provision of transport services for vulnerable children and adults with a team of up to four years.

Minutes:

16.1    The Committee considered the report of the Executive Director for Families, Children & Learning which provided information about the procurement of a new Dynamic Purchasing System (DPS) for the provision of transport for vulnerable children and adults.

 

16.2    Councillor Mears was aware that there was a problem with the software today and asked for confirmation that it was now working correctly. She said that under the new proposals taxi drivers would no longer be able to go into schools with the children, but teachers would now have to come out to the vehicles and asked how that would impact on staff and whether the school’s insurance would cover it. There would be a range of transport used with very few taxis but more minibuses and coaches. As larger vehicles could carry more children, and would therefore do multiple pickups, it would take much longer to get all the children onboard (average time of 10 minutes to load each wheelchair) which would mean that some children would have to leave home much earlier and would get home later. The report said that without a change to the current system the Home to School budget was forecast to overspend in 2019/20 by £346k and last year there was an overspend of £210k, but in the TBM 2 report (due to be considered at this committee at its meeting next week) it showed an overspend of £332k, which was a difference of £14k.  Councillor Mears noted there were 351 children with home to school transport, and she asked if that was the same number which had been budgeted for in the contracts four years ago, or were there now more children or did some of those now have more complex needs which would impact on the budget and cause an overspend. She said that the new proposals were concerning and as Councillors were corporate parents she wanted to raise this as a corporate risk and did not want her name attached to them.

 

16.3    The Executive Director for Families, Children & Learning said that the TBM report assumed some savings which would be delivered by the new scheme, but the bulk of the savings would kick in for the next financial year. The overspend for this year was due to the cost of the infrastructure, the software, additional staff etc. However, for future years there would be a significant reduction in costs and by year three it was anticipated that there would be a saving of £620k per annum. With regard to the length of time children would be in a vehicle, there were strict guidelines which were always adhered to. He said that he was not previously aware that some transport providers were taking children into schools, and it had come to his attention following a safeguarding issue; drivers were not supposed to take children into school and there were also some insurance implications attached to them doing so. A school was responsible for children as soon as they arrived on site. The number of children using home to school transport fluctuated, and four years ago there were around 350 users. With regard to the software, there were two e-tendering processes which were taking place today, one this morning and one this afternoon. The activity which was taking place this morning was initially paused and then cancelled as some operators were unable to log onto the system, but the one this afternoon ran correctly and officers were confident that the system now worked correctly. The tendering process due to be held this morning would be rescheduled and all operators were aware of that change. The officer did not have the exact number of children who were in the contract last year but said it did fluctuate each month and so there was never a set figure, but four years ago there were around 350 -370 students who required assistance with transport.

 

16.4    Councillor Mears referred to drivers taking children into school and said that had been happening for a number of years, and it had only been raised after there was a question about insurance not safeguarding. The TBM report which was due to be considered at this committee next week gave the number of children using home to school transport as 351 but there was no information about their complex needs. She said that she would like to know when this contract was set four years ago how many children did it cover and did those children then develop more complex needs which would have made it more expensive. Councillor Mears accepted officers would not have that information to hand and asked for a written response. The Executive Director for Families, Children & Learning agreed to provide a written response re the number of children in the contract four years ago. With regard to drivers taking children into schools, the expectation was that school staff should be doing that and he had not been aware that drivers were doing so and was concerned that they had. It had come to light from a question about insurance, but issues about safe guarding were then raised, and it had now been made clear to transport providers that schools were responsible for children as soon as they arrived at school.

 

16.5    Councillor Childs (Chair of Children Young People & Skills Committee) said the welfare and wellbeing of children was very important. A number of questions had come in from trade unions, councillors and residents and they had been responded to in great detail and he had seen no evidence that the children were at risk or that the proposals would lead to a diminution of the services that were provided. However, he had seen evidence that would suggest that a number of local monopolies were seeking to retain their contracts with the Authority. One of the priorities of this administration was to open up the commissioning process to a variety of smaller local based companies and to increase competition. He said that the Authority was faced with a massive funding shortfall and any opportunity to redirect money to other frontline services must take precedence over lavish contracts for petty bourgeois monopolies.

 

16.6    Councillor Shanks asked how the tendering process worked, and if children would have different drivers each day. The Executive Director for Families, Children & Learning said the tendering process was for a four-year period, and the expectation was that the same driver would take the child to and from school each day. Once a driver had been approved they would be expected to meet the parents. The first phase was to identify who would be available and then have an e-tendering process or auction for each route.

 

16.7    Councillor Wares said that he had received a large number of emails about this matter and therefore had many questions for officers. He confirmed to the Chair that he had ten questions, which the Chair felt, that as the committee still had a number of items to consider, was too many, and therefore said that he could ask one question and any further ones would receive a written response. Councillor Wares advised the Committee that the Conservative Group had put in a request to the Chief Executive for an internal audit or investigation into this matter. He objected to the reference ‘lavish contracts for petty bourgeois monopolies’ and said that it was inappropriate to refer to local businesses who had served this city so well over many years in that way. 

 

16.8    Councillor Wares said that he had been told that this was a four-year contract and then told that the Council would have a break clause, so after a year it would be reviewed. He had asked officers if the service may be brought in-house and was told it wouldn’t. Senior Councillors then said that there were discussions with officers to bring the service in-house. The Executive Director for Families, Children & Learning confirmed that it was a four-year contract. He said that over four years the children would change and so the routes in year one would not be the same as those in year four. The intention was to get those contracts in place for September 2019. With regard to bringing the taxi service in-house, he could see no scenario when that would be done. However, some children required a vehicle passenger assistant, and there may be some discussion in the future over whether that service could be brought in-house.

 

16.9    Councillor Wares put the following questions for a written response:

 

·         Can you confirm that in the four year contract no part of the service would be brought in-house?

·         At what point were the Licensing Team involved in advising the consultants on matters regarding the types of vehicles Blue Book and other safety features that taxis and private hire vehicles to work to?

·         Can you confirm that prior to any operator working in the city, regardless of where they come from, that they will fully compliant with the Blue Book?

·         Can you confirm that any discrepancies in the Blue Book will be dealt with by the Licensing Team prior to a vehicle entering onto our streets?

·         Can you provide the business case that supports a DPS, given that this committee did not previously approve the use of a DPS with a contract value of £20m over a four-year period?

·         Can you provide details of the Edges contract, how they were procured, what they are being paid and over what period? This may be a Part Two matter.

 

16.10  Councillor Childs said that if there were a choice between money for vulnerable children or money for contracts which he felt were poor value for money, he would always support officers in redirecting that money to the children. He asked what the estimated budget saving would be over the next three years with the new commission process. The Executive Director for Families, Children & Learning said the estimated savings were - Year 1, small saving due to significant investments, Year 2, £270k and Year 3 £620k.

 

16.11  RESOLVED: That the Committee noted the decision had been taken by the Executive Director Families, Children & Learning to procure and award a Dynamic Purchasing System (DPS) and call off contracts for the provision of transport services for vulnerable children and adults with a team of up to four years.

Supporting documents:

 


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