Innovation Exchange

Transport Programme


Key activities

Benefits and impacts


Further Information

Highland Council’s Transport Programme has emerged from the process of identifying ways to reduce expenditure over 2015-19. The primary focus for 2015-19 savings activity is reducing the cost of providing for mainstream school (not including Additional Support Needs transport) and public bus transport services. Within Highland the baseline 2014/15 value of contracts for mainstream schools and public bus services (which includes dial-a-bus services) is £15.003m and the savings target from these contracts is £2.246m.


Whilst the aim is to reduce the amount spent on delivering the transport services, it will be necessary to fulfil the statutory obligation of home-to-school transport. Beyond that it is intended to provide as comprehensive a service as financial resources permit – prices are market-driven, although prospective suppliers are aware that The Highland Council has a lower level of finance available for the purchase of transport services.

Themes: Service Transformation and Customer Service

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Two savings-generating activities have been completed and the third is underway. The two which have been completed are:


  • Approaches to contractors operating high cost contracts which produced savings whilst enabling service continuity by creating contract variations.


  • Retendering of mainstream school and public bus services in Sutherland ahead of the contract termination date.


The third activity is tendering the home-to-school and public bus services across the rest of Highland Council’s area to tie-in with the contracts concluding at the end of December 2016.


To create awareness of the context in which services are being tendered and to enable stakeholders (transport providers, the general public, Councillors, community councils and representative groups) to contribute their views on the current services and their future needs for bus services provision, a range of briefing and consultation events have taken place:


  • 8 briefing events at locations around the Highlands for suppliers to make them aware of the financial context the next round of tendering would be conducted under. Also to explain the procurement process and to encourage competition by urging suppliers to consider applying for routes and types of service delivery they might not previously have considered.


  • A round of meetings with Ward Councillors at locations throughout the Highlands to advise them of proposed public consultation plans and to receive their views/concerns about transport service issues in their areas.


  • 15 public meetings at locations across the Highlands. At each there was a short presentation, a period for questions and then breaking into smaller groups to address specific questions. Meetings were attended by a varying mix of people – individual members of the public, Community Council representatives, transport providers, Ward Councillors, and community groups (for instance Access Panel representatives and Enable, an organisation which supports people with learning disabilities).


  • A survey questionnaire which was available online and in various locations such as Service Points, local libraries and community centres.

The principal goal is to generate savings – the first two activities have generated £278,424.


In retendering the services in Sutherland other benefits were also generated:


  • There was increased competitiveness in tendering for routes in North Sutherland.

  • All public transport routes in Sutherland will now be served by wheelchair accessible vehicles (previously some were).

  • Some contracts which operated as school bus contracts previously have been awarded as public service contracts.

  • Due to the very high tender price received it has been necessary to reduce the level of provision on the Lairg-Helmsdale route, although the reduction can be compensated for to some extent by the community transport group which operates services in the area.

  • The Durness to Inverness service (805) is increased to operate every Saturday and the 806 Durness to Lairg route gains a Friday evening service northbound from Ardgay Station connecting with the train.

  • The North Sutherland dial-a-bus service is reorganised to operate in the Bettyhill area on three afternoons and the Melvich area on two afternoons to improve its availability and reduce dead mileage.

  • A new dial-a-bus service is introduced to offer a specific service to the Rosehall area on Mondays.

  • There has been a greater move to operating the procurement process electronically, including Highland Council’s first use of electronic auctions as a means of seeking lower prices.

The experiences from the two completed transport programme activities have illustrated that:


  • Comprehensive briefing and consultation activities are of vital importance when seeking to reduce the level of expenditure on school and public bus transport services. Improves understanding of context, enables rumours to be tackled, ideas are generated, and assists with the development of route specifications.


  • School and public bus service contract prices needn’t be on a constantly increasing trajectory.


  • Electronic auctions can make a helpful contribution to achieving savings.


  • The training video created to assist suppliers through the procurement process has proven to be helpful.

The web pages which Highland Council created for the programme can be accessed from this lead page:


Contact details:

To find out more about this case study, please contact:


Stephen Graham

Project Manager, Corporate Improvement Team

The Highland Council

01463 254931

Case study added to site: June 2016

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