Community transport provider FACT axes commercial fleet, returning for the first time to its core principles of dial-a-ride and local support

FACT chairman Gary Christy who outlined massive changes to the community transport provider. One cha

FACT chairman Gary Christy who outlined massive changes to the community transport provider. One change has been to axe all commercial contracts such as the provision of four mini buses for Wisbech Grammar School (left). Picture; JOHN ELWORTHY - Credit: Archant

All commercial home-to-school and many other contracts previously undertaken by community transport provider FACT have been axed as part of the biggest shake up in its history.

The March-based charity - whose previous manager Jo Philpott remains subject to an ongoing police investigation - has handed back all existing contracts it held with Cambridgeshire County Council.

Also gone are the four mini buses it provided to Wisbech Grammar School as it returns to its core function of providing dial-a-ride and other services for the elderly, disabled and socially isolated in the Fens, Huntingdonshire and East Cambs.

Many of the drivers previously employed by FACT have been transferred to coach and taxi operators who have bought the charity's buses and tendered successfully for the council contracts.

"We served notice on all the contracts," said chairman Gary Christy who took over following the audit report commissioned by the county council.

"We've had to make a few people redundant," explained Mr Christy. "One driver said he wasn't worried and could understand what we were doing - he told me had joined a charity not a bus company."

He said FACT had offered to sell many of its buses to commercial companies and with the contracts they were then able to transfer over the drivers to run them.

Most Read

Now his vision is to expand FACT into the community, providing more befriending clubs for members, targeting those most in need of their services, and establishing FACT back to the reasons why it was originally set up.

It will also mean opportunities for volunteer drivers, stepping in to help for just one day a month could make a big difference, he said.

Remaining office staff are being encouraged to forge new partnerships with groups and to ensure FACT provides what communities need.

"What's been happening is that routes have been determined by the guys back in the office - we need to get right back to a needs basis, asking people what services they need," he said.

He said eligibility to join FACT had been tightened but ironically with the extra publicity and work by his team membership was slowing rising.

"I've asked the team to look at dial a ride to get them focused on those who need the service, not simply providing a service that it nice to have," he said.

Weekly trips to Stamford, for example, which he found only carried on average two or three passengers were being halted but where demand arises, new services will be added.

He cited an example of where perhaps elderly people from a village needed to get into town for a GP visit or perhaps shopping, then he would try and co-ordinate for FACT to provide a weekly service and for health bosses to ensure appointments could all be made for that day.

"It means our members can no longer treat FACT like a taxi service," said Mr Christy, agreeing that the previous spectacle of four buses photographed arriving within minutes of each other at Tesco could no longer happen.

"The main thing is we have strict criteria for membership, applying county council guidelines that say, for instance, if you are on a bus route with a reasonable timetable that is part of the criteria for not using us," he said.

Financially, said Mr Christy, FACT was holding its own, with council subsidies for dial-a-ride and grants being sought for the costs of running specific activities that support the Cambridgeshire communities they serve. One recent addition has been a back to basics computer club "for those who have reached and gone beyond the magical 55 years".

There will also be an open day on August 31 at St Martin Avenue and FACT is inviting any prospective stallholders to contact them.

Later in the year another fund raising race night is being held to support the organisation.

"When you look at it some 60 to 70 per cent of our costs were taken up with running the commercial operation," he said. "That's no longer there."