ALMOST half a million pounds were paid to the company which handed out “nightmare” school transport contracts.

Brighton and Hove City Council awarded a £499,000 contract to Edge Public Solutions to arrange contracts with transport firms tasked with taking disabled children to and from school.

But parents have complained of chaos after multiple contractors pulled out just before the school term began, leaving many children with special needs unable to get to school.

Under council rules, unelected “executive directors”, which control each department, have the power to award contracts worth up to £500,000.

If a contract is worth more, it must be approved by councillors in the relevant committee.

Mum Pippa Hodge told the MailOnline her autistic 10-year-old son Leo used to be “raring to go” for school.

But now he is “sad, fizzy, confused” and “unsettled in the classroom”.

Hill Park Special School head governor Rob Arbery called the crisis “an accident waiting to happen”.

Councillors have promised to secure new contracts within four weeks.

Brighton Green Party education spokeswoman Cllr Hannah Clare said the crisis “must not be allowed to happen again”.

“It is clear that something has gone very wrong with the procurement of new home-to-school transport contracts for young people in our city,” she said.

“These changes created a nightmare in arranging home to school transport that left disabled children and their families in hardship and distress.

“Cost effectiveness must not come before the needs of families with disabled children in our city, who expected and rely on the home to school transport service.”

But council housing chief John Allcock said fixing the crisis was his “top priority”.

The Labour councillor said: “I want to make a direct and unreserved apology.

“But don’t think it’s particularly healthy to play party politics on this issue. We need to work together to get it resolved and that’s my top priority.

“We’re very clear that we need to get this issue resolved and the whole process has been through audit and standards.

“We want a good, clear, independent investigation so we can learn what went wrong.”

A city council spokeswoman said it had saved about £300,000 thanks to Edge Public Solutions.

She said: “Savings were not the only driving force for change.

“Children’s wellbeing has always been a priority.”