Ongoing payments by local authorities (LAs) for home-to-school contract work should be one of the few reliable sources of income for operators under current circumstances, particularly for those that are not eligible for any other support.
‘Should’ is the key word here. The variation in what is really being paid extends from the full value of the contract without strings attached, to nothing whatsoever.
To their utmost credit, many local authorities in England and Scotland have maintained school contract payments at 100%. They are playing a long game. They realise that without support, the pool of operators available to them at the next tender round will be decreased, and that bids then will reflect that.
Many stipulate that drivers who would otherwise be involved in the contracts remain available. That is not unreasonable. It also avoids any allegation that ‘double dipping’ of public funding is underway if drivers’ wages were being claimed via the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
But not all are following that pragmatic approach. At least one LA in England will pay nothing when services do not operate. Others have selected various percentages somewhere in between, a minority of which are similarly derisory.
In Wales, government guidance has been issued that most LAs are following, although whether 75% of the agreed contract rate with conditions attached is enough is a separate debate.
Still further complication is often added by a stipulation that should schools remain closed, the rate of payment may be reviewed. That makes planning for recovery from the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic difficult, if not impossible.
Stronger direction is needed on this subject. If LAs wish to see the same number of operators in the market the next time they engage in a procurement round, there should be a united front. Payments must be maintained at 100% of the current contract value.