It's not easy being a transport commissioner...

It's clear that SEN and Passenger Transport teams are facing a steep uphill battle. Departments are now being tasked to find savings over and above what seems to be realistically possible. They’re being tasked to do this without impacting service delivery at a time when demand and the complexity of needs has never been higher. Despite this challenge, departments are entirely focused on delivering the service to the best of their abilities. This means supporting service users (typically changing) needs, ensuring they provide a quality, safe, compliant and reasonably comfortable service from the local provider market.

However, limited budgets, staffing and resources are making it significantly more difficult to deliver the service. At the same time, existing infrastructure and possibly what appears to be inflexible procurement policy makes supporting changing needs, a more diverse provider market and delivering a quality and compliant service, that much tougher.

This frequently adds up to an overspend on the service, children’s needs unmet and providers locked out.

Why is this happening?

In our experience, issues with budget mean councils often try a number of peripheral approaches to solve the challenge. These come in the shape of amending entry criteria for eligible children. They also use limited provider lists and then fix prices for those providers lucky enough to make it onto the framework or APL. Despite these efforts, most peripheral approaches rarely work the way most councils need them to. Of course, they’ve been built based on stripped back internal resource to cope with budget cutbacks. The problem is, this way of working has now largely been exposed by rising demand, despite attempts to reduce it.

The typical outcome from this situation is overstretched commissioning teams who are working around the very processes put in place to help them navigate the problem. Instead of navigating the problem, the approach is trying to side step it instead. However, this approach is exposing councils to non-compliance as commissioners continuously go off framework to fulfil routes. At times like this, councils are also exposing service users to potential safeguarding issues and generally creating a lot more work for themselves throughout the process.

Despite this exposure, the fault doesn’t rest with the providers. The consequences often resulting from councils restricting supply and fixing prices has created a disengaged market. Meaning commissioners have no choice but to go around the framework, where they may get bitten on price and find out later down the line that the route didn’t suit the child in the first place. Hence a lot of ‘mopping up’ post the initial route placement. Whilst this is unravelling, commissioners also aren’t able to feed their providers with the time (to meet service users) and details (about their requirements) they need. This means providers struggle to keep up to date with how to effectively support the growing complexity of need in the area, as well as service users’ individual requirements.

Ultimately the outcome is self-evident. The approach comes full circle resulting in a significant gulf in overspend, hindering all aspects of the service.

Although a variety of departments across the country have done it, solving these challenges are by no means an easy task. It requires multiple stakeholders to understand the implications of what is happening across the category and the specific ramifications of continuing to work in the same way.

Diagnosing the specific impact for you, your team and your council is crucial.

To help, we’ve pulled together a breakdown of how you can get the most out of the approaches typically used to overcome these challenges effectively.

Access the breakdown.