Auditors warn Cambridgeshire County Council of ‘significantly more than originally estimated’ community transport probe costs

Fact building Martins Rd. March.

Fact building Martins Rd. March. - Credit: Archant

Other work planned by auditors at Cambridgeshire County Council may be put on hold to assist “unplanned, high priority work” into the Fenland Association for Community Transport (FACT).

FACT transport in the March depot.

FACT transport in the March depot. - Credit: Archant

In a report to Tuesday’s meeting of the county audit and accounts committee, councillors will be told resources needed to provide documentation requested by an external team of investigators “were significantly more than originally estimated”.

Duncan Wilkinson, chief internal auditor, says in his report that the extra resources provided internally “reflect both the complexity of the information and the difficulties experienced in assessing it”.

His report is published part way through a £50,000 investigation into FACT and its affiliated bodies HACT (Huntingdon) and ESACT (Ely and Soham) that began earlier this year.

The council appointed PKF International, a forensic accountancy firm, to carry out the investigation and they will eventually present their findings to the audit and accounts committee.

FACT mini buses in March

FACT mini buses in March - Credit: Archant

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Mr Wilkinson says that internal audit “has been assisting in the investigation into community transport, conducting investigative work and providing information to the police and external investigative firm.

”PKF has been commissioned to produce a report on this work at a fixed daily rate”.

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He believes that by ensuring that internal audit prioritises collecting the information “it will reduce the overall cost of this review to the organisation.

“The resources needed to provide the requested documentation were significantly more than originally estimated, reflecting both the complexity of the information and the difficulties experienced in access it”.

He said his team had produced an interim draft report to management regarding control weaknesses identified as part of their work collecting information. Actions to address these were in the process of being agreed to ensure that control is improved as promptly as possible.

But under the heading ‘additional funding’ Mr Wilkinson summarises which other audits could be delayed or postponed to ensure the community transport investigation can be concluded.

“The major area of unplanned, high priority work is the support needed for the PKF community transport investigation,” says Mr Wilkinson. “To date 125 days have been assigned to this, reflecting the depth of unexpected complexity to extract information and documents.

A £13,500 grant to Ely and Soham Association of Community Transport (ESACT) has been put on hold pending the outcome of the inquiry.

ESACT is a registered charity in the East Cambs area which offers a door-to-door service for people who cannot access local bus routes. But it also relies for income on home to school contracts by the county council.

ESACT was formed in 2015 when it took over from the now defunct Ely and Soham Dial a Ride.

ESACT is part of the March-based Fenland Association of Community Transport (FACT) who also runs the Huntingdonshire Association of Community Transport (HACT).

The county council agreed to fund the PKF investigation to resolve a long running dispute between the community transport provider and the Cambridgeshire Coach and Taxi Drivers Association.

County council chief executive Gillian Beasley, as well as authorising the external probe, has also confirmed she has asked police to investigate alleged forged responses to a community transport survey last year.

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