Concerns as new school bus company yet to obtain licence for autumn term
- Credit: Rachel Edge
Concerns have been raised after it was revealed the company set to run Suffolk's school buses has yet to receive a licence from the government.
Suffolk County Council has awarded the contract to one of its own companies, Vertas, from September 1 – with the existing deal with Suffolk Norse coming to an end later this month.
However, with less than two weeks to go before the start of autumn term, the company is yet to be awarded an operator's licence – despite having now made four applications since April.
The most recent application was submitted on August 4 – with the final date for objections set for August 25, before it is reviewed by the Traffic Commissioner.
A council spokeswoman said however the authority does not expect there to be any issues once term-time begins, and hopes to receive the licence next week.
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However concerns have been raised over why previous attempts to apply for a licence were unsuccessful – with opposition politicians fearful over whether it will be arranged in time.
Sandy Martin, deputy leader of the Labour Group at Suffolk County Council, said: "The county council clearly expected Vertas to be taking on this contract, so it is extraordinary that they didn't ensure the company had the required licence and sufficient drivers before they awarded the contract.
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"Our concern is entirely for the provision of sufficient safe and legal transport to take Suffolk's children and young people to school and college.
"So far, as I can see, that is still not guaranteed."
In a statement, the county council spokeswoman said: “We are aware of Vertas’ application going through due process but do not expect there to be any issues with this as they have been working closely with the Traffic Commissioner on their submission.”
Vertas has already run a minibus service for local school children with special educational needs for the last three years.
The decision to award it the contract came under criticism by local bus companies such as Ipswich Buses and Galloway earlier this year, with contracts expected to have been up to £30,000 more expensive a year under the council-owned company.
A letter penned by local transport bosses said they believed the deal was "not in the best interests" of the county's taxpayers, although the council has stressed the deal poses a better value for money than the offer tabled by Suffolk Norse.