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Report to follow
1. The Chairman introduced the itemand stated that the meeting had been called at the request of members of the Committee, to discuss concerns related to recent changes to the provision of SEND home to school transport.
2. The Chairman invited the Cabinet Members present to provide an overview of the issue and recent developments.
3. Mr Brazier explained the division of responsibility between directorates, with Growth, Environment and Transport (GET) acting as the delivery agents for SEND transport. He summarised formal Council consideration to date, with a report outlining the issues presented to Cabinet on 3 March. He explained that the most significant issue had been that some SEND children were left without home to school transport, following the retender of the service. He added that additional young people who had entered the scheme since 7 December 2021 were yet to be allocated transport. He remarked that he had apologised to parents and children for the distress caused and reminded Members of his response to Kent Parents and Carers Together (PACT) at Cabinet. He gave his commitment to make the necessary changes to improve future outcomes and recognised the reputational impact of recent developments.
4. Mrs Prendergast assured Members that the issue had been the Cabinet Members’ focus over the previous weeks. She acknowledged that investigating which children were without transport and facilitating suitable replacements were the priorities. She confirmed that schools were told that children may have issues attending, with guidance provided and advice to offer virtual learning where possible. She recognised the pain and distress caused to children and parents. It was confirmed that as of 7 March 6 children were without transport or an appropriate offer.
5. Mr Dunkley committed to incorporate parent views into future SEND service recommissioning activities.
6. A Member raised concerns that the relevant governance procedures had not been adhered to, with no executive key decision or formal member consideration carried out in public.
7. A Member asked how many children had been affected by increased journey times. Mr Lightowler confirmed that analysis of journey times was ongoing and that a systemwide figure was not yet available.
8. Mr Watts confirmed, following a request from the Chairman, that he would write to all Members, at the earliest opportunity, setting out the timeframe for a review. He added that the role of the authority’s Proper Officers was to commission the review. The Cabinet Members committed to cooperate with an independent review.
9. In response to a question from a Member, Mr Brazier agreed that 2-hour journey times were unacceptable and that further work was required to reduced times. Mr Lightowler reassured Members that whilst journey times had since been reduced where possible, some journeys would take up to 75 minutes due to the location of schools and individual needs of students.
10. Mr Lightowler confirmed that a risk assessment into the impact of transport changes had not been undertaken prior to the retendering exercise, following a question from a Member.
11. A ... view the full minutes text for item 32.