Express & Star

Firm at centre of Sandwell school transport row has Birmingham deal terminated over DBS concerns

A company which was set to be controversially handed a school transport contract by Sandwell Council has had its deal with a neighbouring authority terminated due to concerns over DBS checks.

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Sandwell Council House

Birmingham City Council said it was cancelling its agreement with North Birmingham Travel following "suspected misrepresentation in relation to DBS checks".

The company has provided school transport for children with special educational needs (SEND) across the city.

It was set to be handed a contract to do the same in Sandwell before serious questions were raised about how North Birmingham Travel was chosen by council officials.

The firm is run by former Sandwell Council employee Azeem Hafeez. He is also the son of former deputy leader Mahboob Hussain, and both were named in a explosive 2016 report on council land deals. He denied any wrongdoing.

North Birmingham Travel had been lined up for a contract worth more than £20 million over four years before council leader Rajbir Singh stepped in to defer the decision in June amid intense scrutiny of the procurement process.

Sandwell Council has said an early review of the process had found “no initial evidence of financial wrongdoing, impropriety or non-compliance with the procurement and contract procedure rules”. The matter will also be looked at by scrutiny bosses.

The authority has been forced to extend its contract with its existing provider as the investigation continues.

DBS checks, short for Disclosure and Barring Service, delve into a prospective employee's background to ensure it is appropriate for them to work with children.

A Birmingham City Council spokesman said: "We regularly monitor our providers, and information about suspected misrepresentation in relation to DBS checks came to light as part of this process earlier this month; an on-site audit by our compliance officers also raised concerns about DBS disclosures.

"Given the significant concerns the city council implemented an emergency decision by the chief executive to remove the contract from North Birmingham Transport.

"So while it is disappointing that we were put in this position by a provider, the swift action taken shows that our monitoring system is working."

Councillor Sharon Thompson, cabinet member for vulnerable children and families at Birmingham City Council, said: "We have advised North Birmingham Travel, which we commission to provide some of our home to school transport routes, that we are terminating their contract owing to a breach of contract on their part.

"While we have seen recent improvement to the SEND home to school transport service we know there is more work to do, and where we identify problems we will deal with them robustly."

Following Birmingham's decision, Sandwell opposition councillor Jay Anandou said local people deserved answers.

The Conservative group deputy leader added: "This is very alarming. It's quite serious. Sandwell Council's process is so weak.

"Ultimately, the people it is affecting are some of the most vulnerable people in Sandwell. I think this is shocking, to be honest.

"If they have failed DBS checks they shouldn't be allowed to participate in the bidding process in February."

The revelations by the Express & Star led to accusations that Sandwell Council officials were “looking after their mates”.

West Bromwich East MP Nicola Richards raised the matter in Parliament, which was subsequently commented on by Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg.

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