Sandwell Council questioned over awarding of transport contracts

Concerns around the lack of transparency for the awarding of SEND transport contracts in Sandwell were debated at a council meeting.

Sandwell Council House
Sandwell Council House

A motion was brought to the Sandwell Council meeting on Monday by the deputy leader of the Conservative opposition, Councillor Jay Anandou, for an independent external review into the transport procurement.

It was brought up to address the concerns of what was described as a lack of transparency into how Labour councillors had handled investigations into the £22 million award of SEND transport contracts to two companies owned by a former employee and a son of a former councillor.

Councillor Anandou said the Labour-run council failed to scrutinise the deal, which proposed to reduce the number of operators from 18 to two companies owned by Azeem Hafeez.

He also listed 10 failings, including an absence of scrutiny, procedural errors, delivery risk, lack of accountability, reputational risk and lack of risk management, and said the council had caused itself harm by the way it had awarded the contract.

Councillor Anandou said: “There is no local authority in England which awards its SEND transport provision in this way by putting all its eggs in one basket. The council has significantly increased its own risk and it continues to suffer significant reputational risk to the matters being escalated to central government and all over the media.

“The reason I stand here today is because I want us to stop the practices of the past and I do not want us to go back to the days of the Wragge report, so I urge the council to be more transparent with the findings of the internal review.”

The debate on the motion saw members of the Conservative opposition take the council to task around the decision-making in relation to the school transport contract.

Councillor William Gill said: “There’s 659 students across the borough who use SEND transport and it must be known that this authority is failing them.”

“They have failed in their duty to protect the most vulnerable people in our society and, at present, there is a discussion regarding modern day slavery and links between elected members to the taxi companies.”

Councillor Laured Kalari also addressed the modern day slavery issue, asking the leader of the council Rajbir Singh about why some firms still had contracts after being found guilty of human slavery.

Councillor Singh said the council was doing an external review to ensure it could be confident that the operators it worked with had good business practices in place.

He said: “After this, scrutiny boards will provide the evidence needed to ensure that our current and future contracts are of good quality.”

The motion went to a substantive motion and was carried after a named vote.

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