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Council admits it pays school taxi drivers too much

A taxi, registered in Braintree, which was driven from Essex to do two school runs a day near Launceston in Cornwall
A taxi, registered in Braintree, which was driven from Essex to do two school runs a day near Launceston in Cornwall

One of Cornwall Council’s most senior officers has admitted that the local authority is paying school-run taxi drivers too much money.

The matter arose during a discussion this week about the council’s finances which have been hit by a £16m overspend so far this year.

Home to school transport for pupils in Cornwall is one of the council’s biggest expenditures and has led to a £5m overspend during the first half of the financial year.

By the end of Quarter 2 (September 2023) the council had overspent by £14.9m, which a meeting of the customer and support services overview and scrutiny committee on Tuesday (December 5) heard has now increased to £16m.

The main areas of overspend continue to be in school transport, temporary and emergency housing (£8m) and housing benefits (£3.9m).

Children in Care services have also seen increased costs, with an expected overspend of £4.3m on top of a council-wide pay increase of £4.1m.

The council’s chief operating officer Tracie Langley told the scrutiny committee that home to school transport for children with additional educational needs – which can often mean a child and a carer being taken to school by taxi – is particularly expensive for the council.

Cllr Mike McLening said: “Sometimes I get the feeling that perhaps we’re not as harsh as we should be when negotiating prices. You say about the taxi drivers... do we let them get away with a bit on pricing?”

Ms Langley responded that he was correct, but measures were being put in place to ensure they are paid a fair price, while also being one that could save the council money.

She told the Conservative councillor for St Stephen: “I think you might be absolutely right, councillor, and we will do our best to negotiate the right price and put the right caps on our dynamic purchasing systems.”

It came to light earlier this year that taxi drivers from as far away as Essex and Shropshire were driving to Cornwall to carry out school runs for Cornish students.

READ MORE: Cornish school run being done by taxi from ESSEX

A spokesperson for the council stressed it was not paying for the relocation of the drivers or their accommodation. “A company called 24/7 Taxis who specialise in school transport and operate across multiple local authorities, have established themselves in Cornwall. The company is employing new drivers locally and their Cornwall operation is based here.

“The demand for school transport is growing and, until now, we have not had enough taxi companies to cater for this need – about 30 transport routes for around 60 to 70 students.

“As the company is in the process of establishing itself, it is temporarily supplementing the local workforce with drivers from other areas of their business.

"Cornwall Council is not paying for the temporary relocation of staff, the cost of their travel to and from Cornwall or their accommodation. It is very much a short-term measure while more drivers come through the required checks and processes before they can start work.”