Transport firms invited to bid for Sandwell Council SEND contracts after controversy

Contracts to ferry youngsters with special needs to and from school in Sandwell have been put out for tender, after controversy surrounding the process last year.

Council chiefs had been considering awarding contracts to provide transport for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) to firms run by Azeem Hafeez.

The former Sandwell Council employee had run North Birmingham Travel and County Cars – the only firms successful in a closed bid tender process last year.

But the final decision over signing off the contract, at a cost of more than £20 million, was deferred and later dismissed after a number of concerns were raised.

Now, after a series of rows erupted over the contracts and the handling of it, Sandwell Council has announced it is inviting firms to bid for a number of contracts.

The Home to School Transport service will run for two years, from September 1 this year to August 31, 2024, with the option to extend for a further 12 months, chiefs say.

Councillor Kerrie Carmichael, leader of the authority, said: "We are committed to giving children and young people in Sandwell the best possible start in life. The pandemic has affected everyone in different ways but children who have missed school, and particularly those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), have been amongst the most severely impacted.

"We’re determined to support children and young people the best way we can, and this new model for SEND transport will provide them with the highest quality services to travel between home and school.

"We hope this process will attract local firms and by commissioning multiple providers it will provide value for money and ensure the council can maintain a resilient service. This new approach provides the safest and most convenient transport options for children and their families."

The transport service ferries more than 700 passengers on a daily basis in the borough, with families set to be contacted during the summer holidays to discuss the new arrangements. The current arrangements will remain in place until the end of this school year.

Councillor David Fisher, leader of the Conservatives in the borough, said: "After the fiasco that happened last year with the previous model, I’m hoping this new framework will be in the best interest of all parties including the transport companies and families.

"It caused unnecessary stress and uncertainty for families that reply on this vital service and at one point they didn’t know if their child would be able to attend school.

"The Conservative opposition raised several failures, including awarding the contract to a former councillor’s family and the application process made difficult for other transport companies to apply.

"We will continue to scrutinise and call out anything we are not happy with. Children's safety is paramount and getting this right is our priority."

Conservative councillors raised concerns over handing the contracts last year to Mr Hafeez, the son of the former council deputy leader Mahboob Hussain. Both were at the centre of the 2016 Wragge report, which alleged code of conduct breaches by ex-Councillor Hussain.

Mr Hafeez, 36, was arrested over the scandal before he was released without charge and the investigation was dropped. He denied any wrongdoing.

Sorry, we are not accepting comments on this article.

Top Stories

More from the Express & Star

UK & International News