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Inquiry into city council's home to school transport service

Published: Wednesday, 25th November 2020

Yesterday, the city council held a public meeting to allow parents and carers to hear the findings of an independent inquiry of the Travel Assist service.

As a result of consistent failings, an independent inquiry was launched in September to provide detailed recommendations setting out what needs to change to improve the service in the medium and long term.

The city council commissioned Ernst Young LLP, an independent organisation with a decade of experience of working with local authorities and transforming council services to undertake this inquiry.

It was important to the council to ensure that families and carers were amongst the first to hear the findings from the inquiry and to ask questions of the inquiry team before the full report is made available publicly. The council is committed to being open, transparent, and collaborative in moving forward on this service improvement journey.

Cllr Ian Ward, Leader of Birmingham City Council said: "We wanted key stakeholders, particularly parents and carers, to be the first to have sight of the Inquiry’s findings and offer feedback. We know that the performance of the Travel Assist Service has not been good enough for some time. We are determined to get it right working in partnership with those who know the service best, and this meeting is the first step.”

The full report can be accessed from our website

The review was commissioned and undertaken at pace following the City Council meeting. EY met and interviewed a number of staff members and external stakeholders as well as reviewing a significant number of documents and data sets. Following the initial phase to understand the current position, further engagement with staff and stakeholders was undertaken to identify critical opportunities for change going forward. This helped to ensure any recommendations made would be possible to implement locally.

The review highlighted eight operational reasons for the service failings in September including:

  • lack of clear operating model
  • lack of performance and management information
  • and poor communication.

There were seven systemic issues identified with some supporting causal factors. These included data, processes, functional structure and capability model, supplier and commercial planning and management; management of guides and route planning and the communication approach.

The findings have evidenced some clear factors that contributed to service failures in September. However, these have been described as systemic which were apparent at least a year ago and the situation at the beginning of the school year has indicated that they have not been resolved by the service.

It was recognised by the inquiry team that COVID undoubtedly placed some unprecedented pressure of the service. However, it was acknowledged by the service during the inquiry that inadequate planning was undertaken leaving insufficient time to make the right arrangements. Had the management information and operating model been more robust, it is likely the service would have been able to address the failings in September more quickly and effectively. The inquiry found that in addition to some of the positive changes that had been put in place in late September to improve performance, it is critical that the systemic issues identified were addressed going forward and to do that would require more transformational changes to the ways of working.

The following recommendations have been made to the Council in that context:

1.1 ► Co-design a new vision with parents and schools that focuses on the pupil and promotes independence
2.1 ► Redesign the needs assessment and support a planning engagement approach to focus parents, pupils and schools whilst appropriately managing demand
2.2 ► Implement a new approach to communicating changes to route information and real-time updates when routes are delayed or cancelled
3.1 ► Clarify roles and accountabilities of the strategic commissioning team
3.2 ► Set up a new integrated approach to the provision of transport services
3.3 ► Clarify roles and accountabilities of the contract and commercial functions
4.1 ► Across all functions review the capacity and capability required and implement plans to increase as required
5.1 ► Ensure that there is an overall process map that is designed from the view of a pupil. This should clearly show accountabilities across BCC, schools and suppliers. Challenge / assure the individual process maps (see below)
5.2 ► Develop detailed process maps for each step of the transport provision including how calls are handled, the transfer to pupils to home/ schools and what to do in an emergency, and how the council can receive assurance on the DBS checks of drivers
6.1 ► Implement a route mapping system that allows routes to be effectively planned with suppliers and real-time communications dealt with (e.g. where is my bus?)
7.1 ► Implement a database that tracks the needs and support plans of all pupils with SEND and make sure accurate and timely data is being provided from other services to manage the overall system
7.2 ► Implement a new set of PIs and a data management system to effectively manage the delivery of transport and intervene quickly where appropriate
8.1 ► Design effective governance that allows the transport service independence to deliver whilst holding them accountable

EY have also recommended that the above be considered in the context of developing a new operating model for the service that bring together some of the other skills and capabilities in the council responsible for delivering transport. This should be supported by the injection of additional capability and capacity to support the service to deliver the change and the future service, complimented by a more robust approach to programme management and continued reporting into the Chief Executive to ensure the programme is delivered effectively and in an inclusive and collaborative way with families, carers and staff.

Following the public meeting a report will be presented to city council’s cabinet on 15 December 2020 setting out the council’s response to the Inquiry and plan of action for implementation the recommendations set out.

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