Bus contracts row leaves Midlothian schoolchildren in ‘limbo’

Education chiefs have assured buses will be laid on from first day back on August 20. Picture: John Devlin
Education chiefs have assured buses will be laid on from first day back on August 20. Picture: John Devlin
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Thousands of Midlothian children are in limbo with school bus contracts still to be confirmed nine days before the new term starts.

A coach firm is taking the council to court after missing out on the last round of £6m deals, so holding up the whole process.

Education chiefs have assured buses will be laid on from first day back on August 20 – but bus firms are understood to be livid at being expected to operate on terms five years old.

“It needs to be sorted out fast if they haven’t got contracts or arrangements in place because children clearly need to get to school,” said Bonnyrigg and Lasswade community council chair Marnie Crawford.

The dispute dates back to May and has rumbled on all summer over the dishing out of seven-year contracts to 16 bus firms.

On Tuesday, council bosses were issued with a legal challenge and wrote to bus firms the next day to inform them of their intention to run existing contracts until December.

But transport company bosses are understood to be outraged at having to lay on vehicles and drivers on terms from five years ago - despite inflation.

“On the one hand, Midlothian Council should be applauded for looking for value for money on contracts but at the same time they need to get the school buses sorted out,” said Ms Crawford. “They need to give parents some certainty as to what is happening because obviously parents can’t just move timetables about.

“Most of them work and have other commitments so can’t just set-off on school runs at short notice.”

Lasswade High School Parent Council Chair Lindsey McGregor added: “It’s very concerning to learn that so close to the schools returning the bus contract has not been finalised.

“Parents and carers are expecting to learn next week if their child has a place on the bus and will be very worried to learn that there may be no buses. The Council must communicate with parents and carers soon if alternative arrangements need to be made.”

The council lays on buses for 2,000 pupils every day to six secondaries and 32 primaries, mainly for young children with specific needs. As part of a Scottish Government initiative, parents can apply for free transport for under eights living two miles from school, three miles if older.