Resistance to Fenland community transport (FACT) and their limited companies bid to Traffic Commissioners for operator licences
PUBLISHED: 17:53 22 January 2018
The county council says it will make the Traffic Commissioners aware of a major investigation being undertaken into the Fenland Association of Community Transport (FACT) when they decide on whether to allow them operator licences to run commercial services through new limited companies.
FACT formed the separate companies, with the same four directors, to comply with a European Commission directive.
This says that all tenders for bus contracts – including substantial and lucrative home to school services –must have an operator licence and FACT has set up Fenland Act Trading Ltd and similar companies in Huntingdonshire and Ely to comply with the ruling.
Duncan Wilkinson, chief internal auditor to the county council, said “in these circumstances, and having taken legal advice, the council has decided to write to the Traffic Commissioners prior to the deadline for objections to make sure the commissioner is aware of the ongoing investigation in relation to the applicants”.
He said: “We will also offer to provide further information to the commissioner and authorise the external investigator to discuss all aspects of their work.
“In this way we can be sure that the commissioner is able to make an informed, yet independent decision on these applications.”
The applications by FACT to register 45 vehicles for commercial purposes will also face opposition from the Cambridgeshire, Bus Coach and Taxi Association (CBCT) who lodged their appeal to the commissioner prior to the January 17 deadline.
They are partly basing their objections on the grounds that FACT is yet to hear the outcome of the £100,000 investigation commissioned by Cambridgeshire County Council into their activities.
In their statement to the traffic commissioner, CBCT says they felt it “important for you to realise the relentless nature” of the offences alleged to have been committed by FACT and that led to the appointment by the county council of external investigators.
Among the arguments put to the traffic commissioner by CBCT is their claim that public funded buses and vehicles could now be used to create “an unfair advantage over private non-subsidised commercial operators.”
The CBCT acknowledges the important role community transport can have and admit they are “happy to lose business where there exists a demonstrable need”.
They also claim the county council funded eight of the nine vehicles for Huntingdonshire to enable them immediately to undertake schools contract – creating unfair competition for local taxi and coach firms.
The county council commissioned report into FACT is being undertaken by PKF, renowned experts in audit and investigation work.
Councillors have been told the report is expected in draft form shortly although the final version “would require review by senior management, including legal services, to agree a response and also the reporting path”.
The audit and accounts committee at their November meeting “agreed that an issue of this complexity would require a special meeting of this committee”.
Once the meeting date has been set, the committee says it will look for somewhere large enough to hold it as attendance is expected to be high.