FACT manager blames ‘temporary’ or ‘work experience’ staff for funding applications that misled local councils in March, Wisbech and Manea

FACT manager Jo Philpott

FACT manager Jo Philpott - Credit: Archant

FACT manager Jo Philpott blamed a temporary member of staff and in another instance a work experience student for false statements made in funding bids to local councils.

A temporary member of staff was blamed by Ms Philpott for falsely describing the organisation as a charity in a funding application.

When quizzed by investigators, Ms Philpott “indicated that it was prepared by a temporary member of staff and signed on her behalf per procurationem (PP)” says the report.

PKF says Ms Philpott “concedes” that it was her responsibility to check for accuracy before the application was sent but she failed to do so.

Investigators looked at documents and accounts from FACT from over several years and found other examples of where they referred to itself as “a registered charity” and evidence that the community transport over stated membership claims and the level of service it offered.

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For instance it told March Town Council it operated “seven days a week with 20 drivers catering for the needs of nearly 5,000 members”. FACT wanted more money to expand its service.

When challenged, Ms Philpott said that document, too, had been signed ‘PP’ on her behalf “by the temporary member of staff”.

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The report says: “She believes that the figure could be a combination of membership and ridership figures but concedes that in any event membership has never reached the 5,000 figure. “

She told investigators that whilst dial-a-ride does not operate seven days a week “the group service is available seven days a week as long as sufficient notice is given of the requirement”.

She said she did not check the letter prior to it being sent to March Town Council.

In another letter to March Town Council in 2013, FACT had by now changed its status to what it is – an industrial and provident society – and asked for £1,000 to support their work for “a member base of 2,000 which includes many local March groups and organisations that rely on us for transport”. The reality was that FACT’s membership at the time was 1,142 with 389 group members.

“There is no indication of who completed the application form”, says PKF; the town council gave them £500.

In the months that followed FACT again went back to the town council for funding – and investigators show that it described itself as an “industrial and provident society (charitable organisation) 26756R” so not heeding advice from the Charity Commissioners to ensure total clarity in its status.

In Manea investigators looked at an email trail from early 2013 in which FACT applied for funding claiming that “we desperately need an extra bus and driver on this route to help meet the increasing demand for your residents”. The application said that “Manea passenger journeys are significantly higher year on year” and there was “a high ratio of elderly residents in Manea”.

The parish council gave FACT £300 but the picture they had painted was not borne out by the transport group’s own quarterly returns.

Dial-a-ride was shown to be static for much of 2012 with a slight increase in the final quarter but dropped in 2013 “and fell sharply during quarter two of 2013”. PKF noted that “there were no major increases in demand and there was a decreasing demand from 2014 onwards”.

FACT however had told the parish council in January 2013 of their intention “to put another bus and driver for the Manea dial-a-ride” to cope with increased demand.

The parish council said budgets for the year had been set so they could not offer the £3,000 requested.

PKF concluded: “We are informed by FACT that the additional bus was primarily to support a case of special need, which is not reflected in the bare statistics. In the event an additional bus was not purchased for this route”.

In respect of Wisbech Town Council the inquiry has also pinpointed a series of misleading emails and information, the first in 2010 missing the charity number but also claiming to operate seven days a week and catering for the needs of “2,835 members spread around the Fenland area”.

Despite the grant application showing a signature purporting to be that of the FACT manager, Ms Philpott told investigators that it was “signed on her behalf by the work experience member of staff. There is no PP to indicate to the reader that it has been signed by someone else other than the manager.”

The letter also claimed that “FACT is a registered charity” as it set out its bid to obtain from Wisbech Town Council £17,419 out of a total project cost of £35,419.

PKF say they looked at 23 archived versions of the FACT website to test claims by the organisation over a period of time although in most instances it showed them purporting to operate a six day service for dial-a-ride.

PKF said the evidence “tends to corroborate” the claims of the taxi drivers’ association that the statements of a seven day a week service was misleading.

Freedom of Information requests to the county council later revealed that in 2012 FACT’s membership was 971 that was 1,864 members less than the number quoted by FACT itself four years earlier.

PKF concluded there was clear evidence of FACT wrongly telling councils it was a registered charity and that the claim of having 5,000 members was false.

“The FHE manager (Ms Philpott) has confirmed the approximate 5,000 membership figures are incorrect,” says PKF.

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