A driver shortage is forcing home to school transport services for children with special needs to be cancelled at short notice, families have been warned.
City council chiefs have confirmed they are having to axe some taxis taking youngsters with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) to and from school.
Bosses say that, while transport was arranged for all children who need it across the city prior to the start of the new school year, the local authority’s providers have been "unable to deliver due to a lack of drivers".
In an email seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, children’s services director Cath McEvoy-Carr reveals the difficulties finding drivers and says the council must cancel on families rather than offer a "sub-standard service" with staff who are not specifically trained and qualified for SEND work.
The council said that only around 3% of its planned journeys are having to be withdrawn, though the number changes each day, out of the 1,016 eligible children in the city.
Parents affected by the short-notice disruption have also been told not to make multiple calls to the council’s helpline because civic centre staff are "struggling" with the volume of enquiries.
A spokesperson for Newcastle City Council said: "Our SEND home to school transport service is under extreme pressure at the moment and unfortunately we are currently unable to provide some of our planned services.
"We have contacted schools and families affected to inform them of the situation, which is caused by a shortage of available drivers and transport assistants who are properly trained, qualified and approved to undertake these important roles. This situation is not unique to Newcastle, with other local councils in the North East and elsewhere facing similar circumstances.
"This lack of suitable drivers and transport assistants has meant that, in the interests of the children and young people who use these services and their safety and wellbeing, we have had to make the difficult decision to temporarily withdraw some home to school transport services.
"We recognise that this will cause problems and concerns for families and we are making direct contact with those affected to look at what alternative short-term arrangements can be made.
"We apologise for any inconvenience and thank people for their patience while we seek to resolve these issues."
The city council has a legal duty to assist with travel arrangements for children aged five to 16 who have conditions that mean they could not be reasonably expected to walk to school – either by providing funding, a public transport permit, or putting on a mini-bus, people carrier or taxi service depending on the pupil’s needs.
Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To know...