A TAXI driver has criticised Durham County Council over the way it awards contracts to transport children and vulnerable adults to school.

Trade representative for Durham City cabbies, Neville Forbes, said the council is running a two-tier system with Durham drivers and those from outside the area.

He said those applying for a Durham taxi licence have to pass a council-approved driving test as well as a local knowledge test to operate in the county.

However, he said those bidding for educational contracts did not require either and are “putting children at risk”.

Mr Forbes, who has been a taxi driver for more than 15 years, said: “You have to pass both tests and when we have asked why we have these tests they say it’s safeguarding.

“I accept it and I think it’s a good idea but we also have an integrated transport system with a portal where you can register an interest in contracts – I have asked the council if drivers from outside County Durham tender was lower and they said yes so they’re allowing out of town drivers to transport vulnerable adults and school children without all of the criteria.”

Mr Forbes added: “They’re putting the lives of children at risk by allowing contracts to be performed by people who have not reached these standards.

“The only way they can do it fairly is to insist these out of town drivers take these tests – until that takes place they should not be doing education contracts as the council is operating a two-tier system.”

Mr Forbes said he understood the council wanted to get the best deal but that the competition had to be “fair” for all.

He has now submitted a complaint to the council to ask bosses to change the policy.

He said: “I just think if Durham County Council has certain criteria for its drivers then any other driver coming into County Durham to perform contracts should meet the requirements that the county set out – otherwise you are putting children and vulnerable adults at risk.”

Andy Leadbeater, integrated passenger transport manager at Durham County Council, said the council had received Mr Forbes complaint and insisted the safety of children and vulnerable adults was “paramount”.

He said: “Ensuring the safety of children and vulnerable adults is paramount in our transport arrangements and is why all of the drivers and passenger assistants we contract undergo enhanced DBS checks and safeguarding training.

"We have received Mr Forbes’ complaint and will respond to him directly.”