TRANSPORT chiefs spent more than £400,000 getting children to school and keeping buses on the road after a coach company went bust.

Oxfordshire County Council was forced to sign last-minute contracts with other firms after RH Transport went into liquidation on October 4.

Stagecoach and other companies stepped in to run 13 public routes and 30 school services, but the short-term replacement contracts were signed at an extra cost to the taxpayer.

County cabinet member for transport Rodney Rose said the extra expenditure was as a result of new contracts costing more than the previous deal with RH.

He said: “I suspect a lot of them are companies which were the second choice for the tender in the first place.

“In the real world it could be viewed that RH tendered too cheap which is why they went bust.

“If you tender too cheap, get all the jobs and can’t turn a profit, then you don’t survive.”

The news comes after the revelation that council bosses were warned against using RH Transport for X18 and X19 routes in the Bampton area, but awarded the contract in December 2010.

At the time, RH asked for £204,525 a year for the two services, undercutting Stagecoach’s bid of £250,627 It has since emerged that Bampton residents and members of the West Oxfordshire Green Party sent a petition to County Hall raising concerns about the contract.

Resident and petition organiser Maurizio Fantato said: “When we analysed and assessed the tender, we did say that in the opinion of villagers, it would have been preferable if the council had allocated the contract to a larger company like Stagecoach for various reasons.

“RH was too small to undertake such a risky expansion of its business.”

But Mr Rose defended his decision to use the firm.

He said: “RH Transport had been carrying for us since 2003, and were on our approved contractors’ list.

“Once we have that approved list, we go with the cheapest tender, and I don’t see what’s wrong with that.”

Mr Rose said he was upset when news of the company’s demise reached him.

But he praised council officers and other contractors who sorted out temporary contracts.

He said: “I was obviously upset for the people who worked for RH and upset we had to pull our fingers out and get something else in place.

“It has cost us a lot of money, but the other option was leaving kids at home while we worked things out.”

He said the lower price of the contract was not seen as a negative thing at the time.

Mr Rose said: “I was aware there was a perception in the area that RH operated with run-down and tatty stock, but I knew that wasn’t going to be the case with this contract. On the other hand, people don’t really like change, so I’m not surprised they signed a petition against it.

“The decision wasn’t based on financial criteria at the time, unfortunately history has proved that was wrong.”

The extra £400,000 the county council will have to spend will come from the public transport budget, which is underspent by more than £700,000.