Calls for '21st century' driver check system made in Portsmouth over fears for vulnerable learners

Councillors argued that more modern methods should be used to check drivers involved in the home transport scheme
Councillors argued that more modern methods should be used to check drivers involved in the home transport scheme
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CONCERNS that an ‘outdated’ driver-check system could endanger children and vulnerable learners in the city have sparked calls for a new ’21st century’ approach.

Taxi and minibus drivers in Portsmouth who are contracted by the council to take pupils to and from school currently undergo manual inspections to ensure an enhanced DBS (disclosure and barring service) check is held.

But it was revealed at a recent governance, audit and standards committee that previously some checks were not available.

Speaking to the committee chairman Councillor Leo Madden said: ‘The last report I had was July 26. Issues were raised in respect of five out of 22 – that’s 23 per cent – of drivers and eight passenger assistants that their DBS checks couldn’t be located.

‘We also weren’t convinced that everybody was fully insured.’

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The home to school transport service is offered by the council to around 209,000 students a year in certain cases including if it is deemed ‘unsafe’ for them to walk to school and for learners with special educational needs or disability.

It is provided through the allocation of bus passes and Portsmouth City Council-owned and contracted mini-buses and taxi services

Michelle Love, the council’s safer transport manager, confirmed that since July all DBS checks for drivers – and passenger assistants who travel with vulnerable students – were verified.

However, she said: ‘At the moment all the checks and safeguards that we have in place are what we can do with the information that the taxi companies are contractually obliged to give us, with the staff that we have.’

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Four complaints about safeguarding within the home transport service were lodged since 2014. One was withdrawn and the other three were logged and resolved.

Director of regeneration, Tristan Samuels, added: ‘We get that there’s a risk and we’re doing everything we can.’

But Cllr Judith Smyth said: ‘I think we should move into the 21st century and have a much more dynamic monitoring system to make sure there aren’t drivers coming in and driving under a generic licence plate. I think it sounds like an accident waiting to happen.’

It was agreed that the service would not be suspended but changes to the contracts should be considered.