Police informed over school transport contract issues

Nicola Richards, MP for West Bromwich East, has said she is informing the police over issues with school transport contracts at Sandwell Council.

Nicola raised concerns over reports that Sandwell Council’s cabinet was due to sign off a reduction in the number of SEND (special educational needs and disability) transport contracts awarded from 20 to just two. She reports that following interventions in the media by Cllr David Fisher and others, this decision has been deferred.

Speaking in parliament about the two companies awarded the contracts, Nicola said: “Both of these companies are owned by the same person, a former council employee and the son of a former Labour deputy leader of Sandwell Council, who is named in the damning Wragge report, in which both father and son are revealed to have been involved in land deals, among other interesting activities.”

In response to Nicola, Jacob Reese-Mogg, Leader of the House of Commons, described the situation as extraordinarily troubling. He noted that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is monitoring the situation at Sandwell Council closely.

Reese-Mogg said he would pass on the West Bromwich East Councillor’s concerns to Home Secretary, Priti Patel. He said: “It may also be something that the police ought to be looking into. This sounds like a really serious prima facie case.”

Nicola Richards shared a post on social media saying the vast majority of constituents acknowledge that a major culture change is needed at Sandwell Council after what she described as ‘years of failure and misuse of taxpayers’ money’. It said: “The Government clearly share my concerns. Change needs to happen to make Sandwell Council work for residents living in the Borough, not for friends and family of those in senior positions.”

Council responds

Leader of Sandwell Council, Cllr Rajbir Singh, has vowed to review the matter quickly.

He said: “As representatives of the people of Sandwell, we are working hard to secure the recovery from the pandemic and support our residents.

“Being the new leader for less than a month, I am determined to ensure we are a forward-looking council. Under my leadership, we will always act in the public interest to provide the best possible services and ensure value for money for Sandwell residents.

“Following concerns being raised with me about Wednesday’s Cabinet report around special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) passenger transport contracts, I took immediate action and decided that the awarding of contracts should be deferred.

“My reason to defer the matter is for the council to satisfy itself that the proper process was followed before Cabinet makes its decision.

“Every effort will be made to review the matter as quickly as possible.

“I have today (Friday) written to both of the MPs who spoke about this matter in the House of Commons yesterday (Thursday) to say I was disappointed they chose not to take the time to speak with me or my office before they commented.”

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