THE council was told it had broken the law and then voted to keep it secret so it did not risk being sued by those affected, The Argus can reveal.

Disabled children in Brighton and Hove were left with unsafe, or no transport to school after council officials changed contractors in 2019.

A review into the fiasco by an independent barrister was commissioned by the city council, with a promise that the findings would be made public.

However, when it was due to be presented in March this year, councillors voted to kick out the press and public before deciding its contents would remain a secret.

The Argus can now reveal the barrister's report concluded that the council had illegally handed out contracts, broke its own rules in the process, and risked being sued by companies who missed out on the £500,000 contract.

The Argus: Downs Park amid the fiasco in 2019Downs Park amid the fiasco in 2019

The council was fearful of facing legal action should said companies find out they have grounds to sue. Councillors decided to renege on the previous promise of publishing the document.

The fiasco started when the city council attempted to cut costs in the transport of vulnerable SEND children in 2019.

When problems arose, some blamed the new transport providers – mainly local taxi firms – although it turned out that cabbies and operators had gone above and beyond their contracts to get around problems created by the council.

It then emerged the problems came after senior officials awarded contracts using a “dynamic purchasing system”.

The controversial system had previously been criticised as being better suited to ordering stationery than transporting vulnerable children.

A cost-cutting consultancy company called Edge Public Solutions promised savings, but actually sent the budget hundreds of thousands of pounds into the red.

Council chief executive Geoff Raw asked an independent barrister to carry out an investigation following what parents described as an “epic failure”.

The council promised that the barrister’s findings would be “publicly published”.

The Argus can reveal that in the barrister's findings, the council was told it had failed to comply with the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 (PCR) when awarding contracts to Edge Solutions.

The council was also told it had failed to comply with its own Contract Standing Orders when awarding those contracts.

Council officers warned that if the report was published it would draw attention to possible breaches of rules, which could lead to legal action against the council.

The councillors decided to accept the recommendation by council officers, which was to only publish the part of the meeting held before the press and public were kicked out.

A spokesman for Brighton and Hove City Council said: “The Independent Barrister’s Review into home to school transport was discussed in confidential session and the council is therefore unable to comment on it.

“A report setting out a number of recommendations in response to the Review was discussed in open session, and the report and the draft minutes are available for public inspection on our website.”