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What does the driver shortage mean for SEN transport?
04 February 2022

In September 2021 the UK government reported a driver shortage which has continued to affect supply chains across the country, including the delivery of home to school transport. Councils managing special educational needs (SEN) transport services have faced a further decrease in suppliers, increased costs and difficulty providing a consistent level of service, on top of an ever-growing demand.

According to Logistics UK, driver shortages have been a concern long before covid or Brexit, with Britain already lacking around 76,000 drivers. The recent driver shortage initially affected HGV supply chains but soon overwhelmed wider services for councils, as the government and suppliers battled to recruit more drivers.

Although Brexit and covid aggravated the issue, it appears this is not at the heart of the problem. Retirement, a lack of driving tests during Covid, and tax changes have all been cited as the cause (The Grocer, 2021).

But what does this mean for home to school transport?

In attempting to relieve the HGV shortage, the government worked with the industry to encourage new recruitment of HGV drivers, including:

- Raising wages

- Increasing availability and priority of driver tests

- Funding driver training

- And temporary immigration visas for EU citizens.

This however, had a knock-on effect for council led services as drivers began to leave for more lucrative HGV roles. Bus driver shortages are disrupting councils across the UK; Derby, Stockton-on-Tees, Nottingham, Loughborough and more (Guardian, 2021). Lincolnshire County Council announced “challenges currently faced by transport providers in retaining and recruiting drivers” as of September 2021 and urged parents to consider alternative transport to alleviate bus service demands. Going even further to cancel local Saturday bus services for the first 3 months of 2022 (LinconshireLive 2021).

In a joint statement, Kent County Council education and highways cabinet members, Shellina Prendergast and David Brazier, addressed the issue, “Home to school transport for some of Kent’s most vulnerable children and young people is being negatively impacted by the national shortage of qualified drivers and this week we have written to the county’s MPs urging them join Kent County Council in supporting those families affected.”

Parents and guardians have also expressed their frustration, especially affecting children with disabilities using the service. Southampton grandmother and resident, spoke of the disruption changes and delays had on her autistic granddaughter, “If it is changed for any reason it can cause the child to become anxious, upset and frustrated, leading to ‘meltdowns’.

“One week there wasn’t any available on my grand-daughter’s route because there was no escort - and each bus has to have one due to the nature of the children.” This led to her spending 4 hours each day transporting her granddaughter to school and other children in the district missing school completely. This not only affects a child’s learning and routine but requires parents to organise last minute care, when services are cancelled at short notice. This is increasing pressure on lower income families the most.

What are councils doing to mitigate the situation?

The driver shortage isn’t going to go away any time soon, especially as costs continue and competition continue to increase between driver markets.

Councils and local governments are working hard to ensure home to school transport is a top priority. Many are working closely with schools and suppliers to understand the market and look at a flexible approach to their service.

Bright Futures previously stated, a large funding gap of £806 million for councils supporting children with special needs and disabilities, and demand is increasing each year. Cost isn’t the only problem; councils are also struggling to provide the same driver or route which is affecting vulnerable students who require routine and a higher level of care.

To combat the driver shortage, some local governments have raised contact fees to be more competitive against the HGV market however, this isn’t possible for every area due to budget cuts and overspending.

Like Kent County Council, many local authorities have written to MP’s requesting government support. This is gaining traction with support and pressure from the public who are backing requests for increased SEN transport funding.

Councils are also taking advantage of supply chain management technology to increase available suppliers, create a flexible framework and ensure they are providing a consistent level of care within the available market. Platforms such as the adam solution, give a full view of the available market and use smart technology to recommend routes, shared transport (when applicable) and compliant local providers at a cost-effective price.

Councils will continue to work closely with schools and parents during this time while continuing to petition for further funding to support home to school and SEN transport.

Speak to our Transport Manager, Steven Birkett today, to find out how the adam transport solution can offer councils a flexible framework and increase the number of suppliers available to provide a consistent and cost-effective service.

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