A MINIBUS operators' bidding war has cut the cost to a local authority of specialist transport to and from school for children with special education needs and/or disabilities by £671,000.

A total of 41 different firms bid for the two-year contracts from Blackburn with Darwen Council for 146 different routes starting on April 15.

The final bill for SEND transport was £2.244million which equates to a cost reduction of £671,000 from the previous cost for a two-year deal of £2.915million.

A report to colleagues by Blackburn with Darwen Council education boss Cllr Julie Gunn said: "The council provides home-to-school/college travel support or children and young people with special education needs and/or disabilities, in accordance with its statutory obligations and published eligibility policies.

"41 different suppliers and sole traders participated in the auction process.

"A total of 146 routes were tendered which were divided into 18 separate auction processes split into routes for saloons, hackney carriages, wheelchair accessible minibuses and standard minibuses.

"This resulted in the following contracts being awarded: Blackburn and Darwen Community Transport Ltd 30; Brownhill Corporate Hire / Brownhill Foundation 30; City Private Hire 24; Indigo Cars Ltd eight; Longridge Coaches two; Matrix Private Hire 14; Mill Hill Private Hire nine; sole traders / owner operators 15; and UK Private Hire 12 "Two contracts that were tendered have not been awarded as yet with one awaiting acceptance and the other due to its location and infrequency of trips; the latter will be subject to a separate bid process.

"Eight routes were exempted from the auction process and will be awarded to the current operators at the existing cost.

"The auction process saw a ‘bidding war’ amongst operators especially around the provision of minibus routes with these prices falling considerably compared to current costs.

"This may not be economical for operators and therefore could see costs escalate again if they need to be re-awarded.

"The demand on the department for the provision of SEND transport continues to grow with additional transport being required constantly.

"As a comparison when these were last tendered through the auction process in 2022 there were 109 routes compared with the current 144 routes which represents an increase of 32 per cent as well as the council now providing a lot more larger vehicles due to the demand."

* Cllr Gunn has also extended the council's contract for specialist care packages for children with complex needs travelling on home to school transport with Allcare Nurses Agency Ltd from April 1 to March 31 2025.