Sandwell transport contract row continues

The row over Sandwell’s SEND school transport contract award to an ex-employee continued this week, with the council accused of “not having the children’s best interests at heart”.

Sandwell Council House
Sandwell Council House

Members of the authority’s children’s services and education scrutiny board agreed to carry out a review of its transport models for vulnerable youngsters and set up a working group to look at all aspects of the service.

But the controversial decision to award contracts worth more than £20 million to two taxi firms run by former council employee Azeem Hafeez provoked a terse exchange between Labour and Tory councillors.

Mr Hafeez is also the son of former Sandwell Council deputy leader Mahboob Hussain and both were named in the Wragge Report of 2016 on land deals at the authority.

In June, council leader Rajbir Singh halted the process and ordered an internal review into how the award decision was reached. An external review will also carried out.

At the meeting on Monday, Conservative member William Gill pressed officers on the procurement process.

But Labour’s Richard McVittie said: “Councillor Gill is hung up abut who provides it but as long as it is safe and secure, it doesn’t really matter to me if its company B, company C or company D.

“At the moment, we want to get our kids to school and education establishments safe and well.

“Councillor Gill is happy to turn this political molehill into a mountain.

“For the review to take place and we provide or improve or evolve to make sure we are giving the best to our families. I think that’s where we need to be taking the focus.

“Are our children and are our families happy with the transport they are provided and if not, we need to improve it.

“Whether it’s run by company A, company B or company C, we need to make sure what we offer meets the needs of our children.”

But Councillor Gill said: “I completely agree the children are the priority in this. They always have been and always should be.

“But what you are missing is the fact the council led to the procurement process of two companies owned by the same bloke shows the children were not the priority.

“If it’s going to the same person, the procurement process clearly did not have the children’s best interest at heart.”

Councillor McVittie retorted Councillor Gill was making the data read how he wanted to and accused him of “political point scoring”.

The review will look at all aspects of the service including personal transport budgets and will involve talking to parents to get their experiences.

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