Parents of special needs children are calling for the council’s director of education to resign over a chaotic and botched transfer of transportation contracts.

Southend Council swapped its SEN transport provider from 24x7 to Vecteo for the start of the new school term at the beginning of September.

The handover has led to chaos, with many parents of pupils at St Christopher's school reporting waiting hours for a bus, which are then overcrowded and understaffed, or being asked to put their child into a taxi without a trained chaperone.

In a tense meeting with the council last Friday (September 10), parents called for the resignation of Southend’s director of education and early years, Brin Martin.

Mr Martin is listed as an officer on the Vecteo board as the firm is a joint venture between Southend Council and London Hire Community Services.

Colin Nickless, who is supporting parents in their campaign, said: “Fundamentally, this is about serious safeguarding concerns. Children being failed. Children being dropped off in taxis outside of schools without assistance, where they could walk off into the road and get hurt or killed.

“It’s one of the most shocking things I’ve ever seen to be honest. And I cannot believe the council can stand by, not only let this contractor carry on with this service, and the director should be stepping down, he should be resigning because it’s absolutely horrific what has happened to these children.”

Southend Council refused to be drawn on commenting on Mr Martin’s job security.

However, Cllr Laurie Burton, cabinet member for children and education, did say: “Our absolute priority is holding Vecteo to account to correct the transport issues so the children in Southend with special educational needs and disabilities who need it, have safe, timely transport to school.

“Council officers and Vecteo held a face-to-face meeting last week with the parents and carers who have been affected and they are understandably angry. As I repeated at Full Council, the quality of the service some families have received is simply not acceptable, and I am sorry for the distress and upset this has caused.

“Whilst we will be investigating what has happened, for now, the immediate priority is resolving the transport issues.”

Parents, who have pledged to take their cases to the European Human Rights Court citing and infringement of disabled people’s rights, are also calling for the contract to be returned to previous provider 24x7.

Andy Mahoney, the owner of 24x7, says the disastrous service during Vecteo’s first month in control is likely due to how late the company took on contracts of staff transferring over from 24x7.

The 65-year-old, who has 20 years’ experience as a dedicated special needs operator and was awarded an MBE this year for his contributions to the sector, says Vecteo only offered the transferring staff contracts beginning September 1 – the first day of term was September 2.

Mr Mahoney says the end date of 24x7’s contract was moved forward to the end of July, leaving staff who were supposed to be transferring between the company facing a month of uncertainty over their employment.

“If you have a passenger assistant that is reliant on their money for rent, which isn’t much because it’s not a full-time job, and they are left not knowing what they’re going to be doing because nobody has told them whether they will or will not have a job come September, so a lot of them walked and found other employment."

A Vecteo spokesperson said: “All Vecteo sub-contractor’s contracts came to an end on July 31, 2021, as previously confirmed in writing to the individual contractor’s, and the formal transfer date was September 1, 2021.

“However, 24x7 were paid for a full 12 month operational period, over 11 months, during the last contract extension period, (September 2020 to July 31, 2021) . This allowed them to pay their staff in full during the August Summer holiday period. This was agreed with the 24x7 Directorate who adjusted their monthly charge to Vecteo accordingly.

“This was done so that should 24x7 not be successful during a recent tendering exercise, and our expectation was that the staff could be released without any financial burden early, at no cost to 24x7, allowing for a smooth TUPE transfer.

“The same contractual and financial arrangement was made with the other sub-contractor involved in the service, and there were no problems. They facilitated a smooth handover and access to their staff well in advance of September 1.”