Transport services have a way to go

6 Dec 01
Vulnerable children and adults are being let down by failures in local authorities' transport services, the Audit Commission said this week.

07 December 2001

Departments are too focused on the financial aspects of the services and are not paying enough attention to users' needs, despite constant urging from the government to be more customer-focused.

Commission inspectors found many of those using transport services were confused by the web of rules and regulations that determine who receives free or subsidised travel. In addition, eligibility for free transport varies greatly from place to place.

The report warned that the patchy nature of services left many of those who most needed access to other public services at risk of missing out. The commission said: 'Effective home-to-school transport, social services transport, and non-emergency patient transport is crucial in allowing people to access public services and promoting inclusion.'

According to figures published by the commission, authorities spend £600m each year on transport for mainstream and special needs schools. They spend £150m annually taking people to and from places offering social services. Ambulance services spend a further £150m a year on transporting patients between home and hospitals.

During research conducted for the report, many users complained about the safety of some vehicles and the lack of training offered to drivers and assistants working with passengers with special needs. Other complaints – particularly in relation to elderly hospital patients – included delays in getting to and from destinations.

Audit Commission controller Sir Andrew Foster said there needed to be a greater emphasis on users' needs. 'Central government can help remedy the problems by reviewing the framework within which councils and health bodies work,' he said.

John Fowler, deputy head of the Local Government Association's education, culture and tourism directorate, agreed. 'The commission's report is certainly a challenge to local government, although it's something of a simplification because it doesn't examine the structural issues,' he said. 'There needs to be investment, both in money and expertise.'


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