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Flintshire councillors seek assurances that school bus fiasco will not be repeated

Flintshire County Hall

ASSURANCES have been sought by Flintshire councillors that there will be no repeat of the school bus drama that marked the end of the first week of term.

More than 1,000 pupils could have been left with no bus to school last Monday after the council issued a statement on Friday (September 8) that transport provider Townlynx had ceased its operations in the county.

It was a decision which could have left hundreds of pupils without transport and the authority scrabbling around for alternative solutions.

But over the same weekend the company made a late U-turn to reinstate the services.

Councillors have praised the authority’s education and transport officers for dealing with the emergency at the end of last week.

The issue was brought up at a meeting of the council’s education scrutiny committee where assurances were sought on behalf of parents and pupils about how similar incidents would be handled in future.

Argoed and New Brighton Cllr Hilary McGuill (Lib Dem) said: “In view of what happened last Friday with the school bus service, I think there needs to be a reassurance from a risk point of view about what is in place should the same thing happen again in the future.”

Cllr Hilary Mcguill

Chairing the meeting Mold Broncoed Cllr Teresa Carberry (Lab) suggested such measures would likely be discussed at cabinet level.

Chief officer for education Claire Homard confirmed Streetscene and Transportation deliver the school transport policy on the education department’s behalf.

Cllr McGuill said she was seeking reassurance for parents that “something is in place should anything similar happen again”.

Ms Homard gave an overview of how the situation unfolded.

“That was a major difficulty late on Friday afternoon”, she said.

“We did what we could to manage that situation effectively and I’d like to pay testament to our colleagues in Streetscene who worked really hard to try and look for alternative solutions.

“But you cannot procure school transport for 1,100 children in the space of an afternoon.

“We did what we could and that was about communicating as quickly as we could once we had verified the information, and you’ll all be aware that changed over the course of the weekend.

“Our main provision was to communicate to schools, ask them to communicate the situation that potentially on Monday morning we’d need their assistance because those routes were potentially not going to be running.

“I’d like to pay testament to our schools who worked really effectively with us to get that message out, then again as the situation developed over the weekend with Streetscene colleagues we were able to update the communications.

Ms Homard added: “I communicated with all our headteachers on Sunday to advise them that the service would be running again.”

“We managed the comms as effectively as we could in a situation that was not of our making.

“We appreciate it would have caused anxiety and distress for pupils and parents.”

Ms Homard added that the council continues to have good working relationship with contractors, with Cllr McGuill adding that she felt the situation was well-dealt with.

Transport was not the only school headache for the council to contend with at the start of the new term.

Penarlag CP near Ewloe was forced to close when the school ran out of water after a burst main in the area.

Hawarden Ewloe Cllr Dave Mackie (Ind) called for improved communication between the water provider and council.

Cllr Dave Mackie (Pic: Flintshire Council)

He said: “As you know there was a serious water burst in the Ewloe area and everything seemed to be working fine until schools started running out of water about three days into the event.

“What I felt was missing was the water company hadn’t actually contacted the county council and hadn’t given us direct contact points.

“We had the situation where one school in particular had run out of water at 11.11am, couldn’t feed the children at lunchtime and there was no water to the toilets.”

Cllr Mackie added: “We couldn’t actually get in touch with the water company and say ‘what is going on here?’

“When there’s a problem like that, if we could have a contact with the utility that might have helped.”

Ms Homard said she would take feedback through emergency management response process, before chief executive Neal Cockerton said councillors could be given more guidance on the council’s contingency planning.

He suggested newer councillors could be given training about that process, something the committee agreed to take up.