It’s finally here - Monday will see publication into funding and other alleged irregularites at community transport provider FACT
- Credit: Archant
Around 5pm on Monday Cambridgeshire County Council will click the switch and put into the public domain the long awaited report into community provider FACT.
Otherwise known as the Fenland Association for Community Transport, the 288 page, 71,000 words and £140,000 investigation commissioned by the council will be out there.
It is expected to show the extent of the inconsistencies in funding applications, membership numbers, and survey manipulations spotlighted during this newspaper’s six year campaign.
It will also answer allegations – backed by expert evidence – that some funding applications contained wildly misleading information.
Here’s a chronology of the events of the past six years:
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October 26 2012 with the headline “Our Livelihoods are at risk, say angry drivers” The Cambs Times launched the start of the taxi industries campaign against the Fenland Association for Community Transport (FACT) FACT manager insists she does not believe “that FACT is affecting taxi drivers”
November 9th 2012 we reported how cabbies were questioning the legality of FACT’s licensing requirements (now confirmed to have been wholly inadequate). Fenland District Council claimed it had carried out two investigations and “found nothing that implied it was an issue”.
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January 4th 2013 MP Steve Barclay called for a “top level meeting to tackle increasing concerns” as taxi spokesman states “if FACT is able to compete for our business then we need a level playing field”.
FACT board member, Cllr Kit Owen incensed the taxi industry by implying the taxi drivers were inventing their allegations due to there being too many taxis, which he claimed was the main reason “they are making the noise they are about FACT”.
February 28th 2013 the MP Steve Barclay met with representatives from the CCC, FDC FACT and the taxi industry. Within this meeting the MP called on the FDC to undertake a full audit of FACT.
The outcome of that audit exonerated FACT of any wrong doing.
March 29 2013 the campaign made the front page under the headline “Cabbies call for action”. Taxi drivers discovered FACT was still advertising across Google under the specific headings of taxi and minicab. Taxi spokesman Dave Humphrey called for FDC “to stop FACT behaving illegally or unethically” FDC denied existence of such advertising.
May 2013: Despite spending hundreds of thousands of pounds financing a huge fleet expansion to facilitate commercial contracts, the FACT management cuts the Saturday Dial A Ride service over a £12,000 funding cut!
August 9th 2013 we print the headline “Malpractice accusation against FACT transport”.
After claims the county council has “ demonstrated a clear prejudice by repeatedly refusing to take action against FACT” the taxi industry demands FACT “continuously breaks laws, regulations, terms and conditions, acts dishonestly and unethically and all with complete impunity” and claimed they are simply asking for FACT “to act lawfully and to stop abusing a privileged position”
October 2013 Taxi drivers publish their own report that they sent to local councils and charities. FACT responds with a letter to taxi representative with legal threat demanding “...all of your allegations of impropriety are incorrect” and insists there is no evidence of “improper behaviour on the part of our manager Mrs Philpott”. FACT then demands taxi drivers publicly state their “allegations were made in error”.
No letter was submitted, no legal action followed!
January 2014 a detailed report prepared by taxi spokesman Dave Humphrey was handed by the Editor to Mark Lloyd, the then chief executive of the county council.
February 2014 FACT threatens the Cambs Times with legal action; following a lengthy meeting the paper acknowledges that responses should have been sought from FACT on some articles and they apologised. No legal action was taken although the paper did agree to withdraw some online articles!
September 2014 after several concerns were raised over the nature of the investigations, including the reluctance of the investigating officer to collect or process evidence, police dismissed the case on the grounds of “no evidence”.
October 2014 taxi drivers’ commission Key Forensics Ltd to examine what was believed to be a forged letter. The letter, purporting to be written by a FACT user had been entered by the FACT manager to support the successful application for a £17,000 grant from the FDC in 2012. The forensic conclusion is now part of the new county council inquiry report.
November 2014 taxi drivers prepare another report which is distributed both electronically and by post to town, district and county councillors.
November 2014 the FACT manager sends a letter to all councillors claiming “we have nothing to hide and we strongly deny the allegations being made against us”. She then categorises the report as being a “vexatious attack by a very small amount of taxi drivers”.
June 2015 taxi drivers form an official association with several company owners, and raise funds to employ the service of Woodcote Fraud Investigations to assess the evidence and prepare a report.
February 2016 Woodcote report issued to all county councillors. Report declares “It is alleged commercial advantages have been facilitated by various methods including the submission of fraudulent applications for grants from county, district, town and parish councils. I have found these allegations to be well founded...”
May 2016 Fiona McMillan of the county council was requested by county council legal director Quentin Baker (he resigned in June) to appoint an independent investigator. CCC appoints the firm Green Biro to undertake an independent investigation.
July 2016 Taxi drivers successfully campaign for Green Biro and Quentin Baker to be removed from the investigation.
November 2016 Police called in by the chief executive of Cambridgeshire County Council to investigate possible fraud over consultation responses following concerns that they may have compromised decisions involving public money.
January 2017 CCC appoint new independent investigator PKF Littlejohn
March 2017 following confirmation the FACT manager had significantly understated the level of state aid her organisations had received in funding applications, the DfT confirm to MP Steve Barclay that three minibuses, worth over £150,000 of public money, had been cancelled.
November 2017 a £13,500 grant to community transport provider ESACT (the Ely subsidiary of FACT) that was frozen in January was withdrawn.
East Cambs District Council suspended the payment following news that a county council investigation into ESACT and its parent body FACT had begun.
July 2018 County council call special audit committee for July 31 to discuss the report. That report remains confidential until Monday July 23 at 5pm.