Cambridgeshire County Council had the evidence years ago - but refused our calls for an investigation. Today our reports on community transport are vindicated

PUBLISHED: 15:34 27 July 2018 | UPDATED: 15:59 27 July 2018

Cambridgeshire County Council chief executive Gillian Beasley (inset) authorised the independent investigation into FACT that has cost �200,000. However she is confident the council can recover its costs. She is also to meet taxi drivers to apologise to them. Picture: Archant

Cambridgeshire County Council chief executive Gillian Beasley (inset) authorised the independent investigation into FACT that has cost �200,000. However she is confident the council can recover its costs. She is also to meet taxi drivers to apologise to them. Picture: Archant

Archant

In our first article back in October 2012, we focused on the concerns of the taxi industry locally that FACT may have been operating outside the comprehensive and expensive licensing regimes imposed on taxi and private hire drivers and operators.

From 2012 until 2017 FACT always declared they were legally exempt from commercial licensing requirements due to having a “not for profit” status.

Normally, an organisation operating in Great Britain that accepts any sort of payment for providing transport to passengers must hold either a public service vehicle (PSV) operator’s licence or a private hire vehicle licence.

However, the Transport Act 1985, through the use of permit 19’s, excuses certain organisations from the need to hold the expensive public service vehicle (PSV) operator’s licence, but insists they operate under certain conditions which includes their undertaking must be exclusively non-commercial and operated without a view to profit.

It was therefore difficult for FACT and the Cambridgeshire County Council to justify how FACT could operate under such permits when 80 per cent of their work was the fulfilment of commercial contracts.

In 2016 I accompanied former county councillors Alan Lay and Paul Clapp when they visited the FACT yard and exposed drivers operating without the required CPC safety training.

Months later, and responding to an infraction notice placed on UK authorities by the EU commission, the DfT confirmed the taxi drivers concerns over the legality of community transport operators like FACT using permit 19’s.

The DfT announcement has created concerns for many community transport operators across the country.

In a recent article in a trade magazine Howard Russell, CEO of West Norfolk Community Transport Project stated: “One difficulty some community transport operators have encountered concerning licensing and operating is local councils asking them to tender for services that a section 19/22 operator should not be running. This is not the case with Norfolk County Council” According to Howard “Norfolk County Council has a very strict legal process. It continually ensures we stay in line, supporting us along the way. It is mutually beneficial.”

Due this approach he confirms “there is no local animosity against local transport. Norfolk County Council is extremely up to date and abides by the correct interpretation of the rule. “They’re sharp and doing the right thing. They are intelligent and hard working.”

Howard does acknowledge that there are some community transport organisations that push the boundaries of what is legal. “There are only a very small number of organisations that do this,” he says. “But it only takes a small number of rogue community transport operators for the rest of us to be tarred with the same brush.”

FACT/HACT and ESACT have now been forced to apply for the same O-licences as commercial operators and earlier this year set up three limited companies to operate its commercial interests.

This in itself poses further questions as to how can a fleet of buses funded through what appears the misuse of funding given to support those in need be simply handed over to commercial companies.

Secondly, when investigating another CTO operating under permit 19’s the EU Commission confirmed that “their revenues (including grants and contract income) can be legally used only to cover their costs. If CTOs breached the “not-for-profit” requirement, the driving permits under which they operate would be invalidated’.”

Taxi spokesman Dave Humphrey said: “Next year FACT will celebrate its 30th anniversary; despite running successfully for 25 years in perfect harmony with other industries, in the five years between 2012 and 2016 they generated almost a million pounds in excess “revenues (including grants and contract income”) to finance a commercial fleet of 25 additional vehicles.

“And HACT generated £442,501 to create in just three a fleet three times larger than the community transport services demands.

Mr Humphrey says he is still waiting for an answer to his question: “How can the generation of over £1.3 million in surplus income to fund a huge commercial fleet be regarded as ‘legally covering the costs of small community transport organisations?”

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