A parent in North Petherwin was astonished to discover this week that a taxi which arrived to take his son four miles to his primary school had come all the way from Essex, almost 300 miles away. Another driver who took three pupils to the same school last week had driven from Shropshire – almost 250 miles away.
The driver from Essex is being paid to take pupils to and from North Petherwin Primary School, and between the school runs is staying at a Travelodge across the Cornish border at Sourton Cross, near Okehampton.
Adam Paynter, whose son was picked up by the Essex-registered cab, said: “It’s unbelievable. If I told you that down the pub, you’d think I was having a laugh and I’d had too many drinks.”
The father, who also represents Launceston North and North Petherwin at Cornwall Council, said it was a “complete waste of money” and questioned whether public funds were being used to pay for the school transport, which is funded by the local authority.
However, the council said it was a temporary measure and it wasn’t paying for the temporary relocation of taxi staff, the cost of their travel to and from Cornwall or their accommodation.
Mr Paynter, who is a former leader of Cornwall Council, said his son and two girls, who also attend the primary school, used to get picked up by a council-funded mini-bus, but that was later reduced to a taxi from Launceston seven miles away. He thought it was bad enough last year when a taxi from Truro took over and started making a round-trip of over 100 miles every day to do the school run.
He said: “Last year it was slightly odd that the tender was given to A2B Taxis in Truro. He was driving up from Truro just to take my son and the two girls to the local primary school, going back to Truro and then coming back in the afternoon to take them home. That’s a good 110-mile-plus round trip. I didn’t think it was that clever – surely they could find a nearer taxi?”
Mr Paynter said he was told by the council’s passenger transport unit that no one had picked up the tender to take the pupils to school, so it was given to A2B Taxis which covers the whole of Cornwall. He added: “It didn’t seem to make sense with climate change and everything else. You can do your own maths of how much it would cost to drive from Truro to North Petherwin, back again, and doing the same in the afternoon.”
The councillor, who is deputy leader of the Independent Group at the council, said: “They’ve gone one better this year. The school year started last Wednesday – we had no correspondence from Cornwall Council or any operator, so we rang the taxi driver from A2B and asked what’s going on. He hadn’t got the contract. Have a guess where the taxi came from to pick up my son?”
We suggested Penzance or, at a stretch, somewhere in Devon.
“Well, I asked the same of my colleagues and they got nowhere near,” said Mr Paynter. “This week it’s been done by a taxi driver from Essex, registered with Braintree District Council, with a Braintree plate on his car.
“Last week, the taxi that took my son and the girls to school had come down from Shropshire, working for the same company in Essex. He told me he was doing those three days, then there would be somebody else this week. He was staying in the middle of nowhere for two nights when he did the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday for the children and then drove back to Shropshire.
“The driver from Essex is staying at a Travelodge at Sourton Cross, near Okehampton, and he’s just doing the pick-ups and drop-offs either end of the day for three kids to go to North Petherwin School and he lives in Essex, and he’ll drive back on Friday afternoon. You wonder what he’s going to do for the other ten hours of the day. Can you believe it?”
The councillor added: “I’ve been leader of the council, I’ve been finance portfolio holder – that is something we would not sanction and would never have done as Independents running the council. When we ran the council it was all about local procurement and money going into local pockets. At least if it’s a Truro driver you’ve got someone in Cornwall getting a wage and a company is getting money out of the council.
“You’ve got someone coming down from Essex, the kids don’t know them – this is the second driver they’ve had in five days. Who’s going to turn up next week? Are they going to come from Edinburgh?”
The pupils had to tell the taxi driver he was going the wrong way on one of his first journeys.
“He said he didn’t have a clue where he was or where he was going, and yesterday he was quarter of an hour late because the sat-nav took him completely the wrong way. The two girls in the back of the taxi told him he was going the wrong way and they directed him back to ours. You couldn’t make it up,” added Mr Paynter. “Considering the council has declared a climate emergency, it would be interesting to see if they’ve worked out how much carbon those decisions are making if they’re driving from Essex to Cornwall.”
Mr Paynter said: “The council seems to be getting more and more out of touch, and certainly the way it is being run at the minute – they’re cutting services left, right and centre while maximising council tax and wasting money.”
When asked about the logic of sending taxi drivers from Essex and Shropshire to do a school run in Cornwall – and how much it was costing – Cornwall Council was quick to explain it wasn’t paying for the drivers’ travel or accommodation, and it was a temporary measure until the company could employ local drivers.
A spokesperson for the council said: “A company called 24/7 Taxis who specialise in school transport and operate across multiple local authorities, have established themselves in Cornwall. The company is employing new drivers locally and their Cornwall operation is based here.
“The demand for school transport is growing and, until now, we have not had enough taxi companies to cater for this need – about 30 transport routes for around 60 to 70 students.
“As the company is in the process of establishing itself, it is temporarily supplementing the local workforce with drivers from other areas of their business. Cornwall Council is not paying for the temporary relocation of staff, the cost of their travel to and from Cornwall or their accommodation. It is very much a short-term measure while more drivers come through the required checks and processes before they can start work. The fact that the company is able to do this is a positive of working with a supplier with resource available nationally which can be utilised at a local level where needed.
“The arrival of this company is an example of the hard work taking place within the council to encourage and grow the supply of transport providers in Cornwall, helping to ensure the council can meet its obligations to support school, post-16 and social care travel, whilst providing employment opportunities for local people.”
Mr Paynter argued that the council’s statement “doesn’t add up”. He said: “There was a massive fuss only a few months ago when the council removed the limit on the number of taxis that could operate and we heard there were now too many taxis in Newquay, and it was affecting people’s livelihoods. Yet the council says there aren’t enough taxis in Cornwall to provide travel to schools.
“We are hearing there are now too many taxis in Cornwall because of the change of policy, but the council is bringing taxi companies in from Essex. These school trips would be a solid base for any taxi in Cornwall to cover – the work’s guaranteed.”
For the time being it looks as though, for the pupils at North Petherwin, the only way is Essex.