200-page report into Cambridgeshire community transport providers FACT, HACT and ESACT expected early in 2018

FACT transport in the March depot.

FACT transport in the March depot. - Credit: Archant

An investigation commissioned by Cambridgeshire County Council into the Fenland Association of Community Transport (FACT) has taken longer and cost more than anticipated, councillors were told.

Fact building Martins Rd. March.

Fact building Martins Rd. March. - Credit: Archant

Duncan Wilkinson, the council’s chief auditor, says the time needed to support the investigation has been “much higher than initially expected”.

The county council agreed to fund the investigation by forensic accountants PKF 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.

Investigators are nearing completion of what is expected to be a 200-page report into FACT and its subsidiaries in Ely and Soham (ESACT and Huntingdonshire (HACT) and it is likely it will go the audit and accounts committee in the New Year.

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Mr Wilkinson told councillors this week that the council’s own auditors had been assisting PKF in their work.

“Due to the high time pressure created by providing support to the community transport investigation, the audit plan is currently at capacity,” he said referring to other work streams undertaken by his department.

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However he warned that although some other audit work had been cancelled to make way for the PKF inquiry, “it will not be possible to cancel further audits without undermining the plan’s coverage”.

His department would be making requests to the council for extra funding to support the additional work, he said.

Meanwhile the county council says it is acting on advice from the Department of Transport about licensing of community transport operators who had “confirmed our approach is proportionate”.

A council spokesman said the ministry had not asked any local authority to cancel any contracts in the light of amended advice and they did not expect that any should have to do so.

The spokesman said: “So nothing has changed in the short term.”

Mr Wilkinson had earlier confirmed that the resources needed to provide the requested documentation for the PKF inquiry “were significantly more than originally estimated, reflecting both the complexity of the information and the difficulties experienced in access it”.

This week East Cambs Council withdrew a grant provisionally allocated to ESACT and are rolling it over to next year.

Councillor David Ambrose-Smith, chairman of the community services sommittee, said: “Whilst this opportunity has only become available due to an ongoing investigation by the county council, we hope that current issues can be resolved and we look forward to hearing from ESACT in the future.”

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