National Ombudsmen
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Camden Council criticised over school transport for vulnerable child

Camden Council’s arrangements for contracting out its school transport services were inadequate.

Camden Council’s arrangements for contracting out its school transport services were inadequate finds Local Government Ombudsman, Jane Martin, who recently (Tuesday 2 February 2011) reports on her investigation into a complaint concerning a vulnerable child who was transported to school by the Council’s contractors. The child was sexually abused by one of the drivers.

The Ombudsman says: “This case has illustrated the importance of proper safeguards being in place when children are being transported to and from school. Councils must set out clearly their expectations of contractors and monitor those arrangements to make sure they are working properly.”

It transpired that the driver had a list of criminal convictions abroad for offences against children. Despite this, he obtained an enhanced certificate from the Criminal Records Bureau. This is subject to a separate complaint to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

The Ombudsman says: “This investigation has highlighted a number of learning points which have implications for councils and their contractors. The child’s mother who brought her complaint to me wanted to prevent a similar situation occurring in future. By doing so, she has brought important issues to wider public attention.”

The Council has accepted that improvements should be made to its procedures for contracting out transport services. It has made changes and its contractors are now required to appoint staff using recruitment and appointment procedures that equal or exceed the Council’s policies. The Council requires all safeguarding roles to be advertised as such and the contractor is expected to obtain references covering the five-year period prior to commencement of work and an enhanced CRB certificate. The Council is auditing compliance. Its own staff have undertaken safeguarding training and contractors are being offered training in specialist interviewing techniques.

The Ombudsman welcomes the improvements in procedures but has also ruled that Camden Council should pay the child’s mother £1,200 for her distress and the time and trouble taken in pursuing her complaint.