A plan to bring in a private firm to make school transport for children with special needs more efficient has been delayed following criticism from parents and councillors.

Haringey’s top decision-makers agreed in November to bring in consultancy Edge Public Solutions to help improve the special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) transport service and save more than £600,000 a year.

The council says it would lead to better value for money and an improved service for parents and children.

But at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday (December 10), one councillor slammed the plans following reports that another local authority that hired the firm, Brighton and Hove, ended up spending significantly more money on home-to-school transport.

Cllr Noah Tucker (Labour, St Ann’s) said: “What if, like they did in Brighton and Hove, this profit-motivated, private-sector cowboy loses the borough the best part of a million pounds?”

Cllr Tucker claimed the firm would “seek in every way to maximise the gain to their shareholders and directors by cuts that will be unnecessary and motivated by financial gain to the company”.

Also speaking at the meeting, mum Marta de La Vega, founder of Haringey parents’ group sendPACT, said she had not seen any evidence that parents had been consulted about the changes.

She added: “How can left-wing politicians promote a secret contract with a dubious private company to manage this much-needed service for disabled children?

“How can you improve a service cutting 20 per cent off their budget?”

Cllr Zena Brabazon, (Labour, Harringay), cabinet member for children and families, denied the council was privatising the service and said parents had been involved in drawing up the plans.

She said parents had given evidence to the council that the service was not up to standard, including “buses not turning up, breaking down, and all the things we know can happen in a really difficult set of circumstances, where if one thing goes wrong, the whole thing falls apart”.

Cllr Brabazon added: “The company that has won this project has done this work in many authorities.

“This is not a privatisation or outsourcing. The staff who work in the transport team will remain working in it.

“We want to change the organisational culture and bring in fresh management.”

Cllr Brabazon said 50 parents had been consulted as part of a scoping exercise that also included schools.

The decision to award the contract had been sent back to the cabinet by the council’s overview and scrutiny committee with several recommendations designed to strengthen engagement with parents.

Under questioning from councillors, chairman of the scrutiny committee Cllr Lucia das Neves (Labour, Woodside) said it was “very clear to us that families were not happy they have been engaged significantly, if at all”.

Cllr Brabazon said cabinet members accepted all the recommendations made by the scrutiny committee.

After discussing the matter during a private session, council leader Cllr Joseph Ejiofor (Labour, Bruce Grove) proposed to defer the decision on awarding the contract to a future cabinet meeting.

He said during that time, officers “will fully explore all the options for this service transformation”.

The proposal was agreed by a majority of cabinet members.

Jim Aspin, manager of Edge Public Solutions, said his company had “worked very successfully with councils across the UK for the last 10 years” and the firm faced an “unprecedented” situation at Brighton and Hove city council.

Mr Aspin said that in Brighton and Hove, disruption to minibus services before the start of new contracts had led to the “emergency temporary provision of much costlier taxi vehicles”.

He pointed out that the council had told the BBC the firm was “not to blame” and had commissioned and independent review of the problems.

Mr Aspin added: “We are confident that the underlying causes of this disruption – and the significantly increased costs, as a result – will be identified in this review and demonstrate that Edge Public Solutions acted with great care and professionalism in very difficult circumstances.

“In recent months we have worked with Haringey Council very successfully to review their passenger transport operation.

“The review has been extremely well received and identifies opportunities to improve quality and efficiency. If delivered, it will allow Haringey to continue to offer a quality service in the context of ever-increasing budget pressures and increasing demand for these services now and in the future.

“Edge Public Solutions is a private company. We specialise in providing in-depth best practice knowledge in this very complex area of SEND transport to support councils in their transformation journey.

“All our assignments are procured via formal council procurement processes and are approved by the relevant officers and politicians as required.”