Council will hear of major changes at community transport provider FACT but ‘fit and proper organisation’ bill of health remains outstanding

PUBLISHED: 22:00 27 October 2018 | UPDATED: 22:00 27 October 2018

FACT manager Jo Philpott leaving Shire Hall after the audit committee. Three days later she quit FACT. Picture: HARRY RUTTER

FACT manager Jo Philpott leaving Shire Hall after the audit committee. Three days later she quit FACT. Picture: HARRY RUTTER

Archant

Asked how the meeting that ripped apart the organisation she’d built using a mix of public and charitable funds had gone, she replied “let’s hope we can all move on”.

An independent report commissioned by Cambridgeshire County Council into the running and awarding of home to school contracts to Fenland Association for Community Transport revealed major issues over procurement, membership numbers and cross subsidisation of commercial and community contracts. Picture(s): CAMBS TIMESAn independent report commissioned by Cambridgeshire County Council into the running and awarding of home to school contracts to Fenland Association for Community Transport revealed major issues over procurement, membership numbers and cross subsidisation of commercial and community contracts. Picture(s): CAMBS TIMES

Jo Philpott, manager and effectively chief operating officer of the multi million pound community transport conglomerate covering Fenland, Huntingdonshire and Ely did just that. Three days later she stepped down.

Her ‘supporter-in-chief’ and board member Councillor Kit Owen announced her departure on the Friday night after the county council audit and accounts committee had delivered their verdict on her stewardship, backed by a damning 288 page, £300,000 investigators’ report.

Cllr Owen, now facing conduct claims by the taxi and coach industry following his alleged potential conflict of interest as a member of the Fenland Council licensing committee, remains. His role is currently that of chairmanship of a newly created finance and general purposes committee to re-shape the community transport organisation.

New board members are being recruited and a new chairman is expected to be announced shortly – and the county council has taken a look at how FACT, HACT and ESACT are learning the lessons drummed into them by the report’s findings.

The majority of the issues are historic  which we have dealt with Cllr Kit Owen, vice chairman of FACT, HACT and ESACT (FHE). That was said by Cllr Owen before his board announced the departure of manager Jo Philpott. Picture: CAMBS TIMESThe majority of the issues are historic  which we have dealt with Cllr Kit Owen, vice chairman of FACT, HACT and ESACT (FHE). That was said by Cllr Owen before his board announced the departure of manager Jo Philpott. Picture: CAMBS TIMES

The feeling continues to run high within the taxi industry that it is time for Cllr Owen to move aside from his community transport role and his licensing position at Fenland Council that they insist is a conflict.

Taxi drivers’ boss Mark Holland said: “Cllr Owen made a fool of himself at the audit committee in July and simply continues to show how irresponsible and untruthful he is willing to act.”

Following the July meeting, Duncan Wilkinson, chief internal auditor of the county council, has produced an updated account of how new systems are working at the March based organisation.

The county council put forward 66 actions needed to bring FACT into line with regulatory and legal requirements.

He says 46 of those actions are complete and with evidence provided, four are ongoing with no expected end date, four are reported as complete but awaiting the evidence, and 12 remain in progress.

Among those remaining actions is perhaps the most critical of all – resolution of how much FACT must pay back after investigators discovered it had misused state aid to operate commercial contracts.

Mr Wilkinson has asked the audit committee for its view as to whether the revamped organisation “may be considered a fit and proper organisation to contract with the council”.

He said one of his team had been to the Hostmoor offices of FACT to ensure all the agreed actions were being implemented. Memberships are being checked to ensure compliance with community transport rules.

The council is also insisting that FACT can show which vehicles are being used for commercial work (subject to different licensing) and which are used solely for its charitable aims. FACT has now put its commercial operations into a separate but associated entity to regulate it.

All vehicles, says Mr Wilkinson, are owned by the charitable organisation but then hired to its commercial arm, and with a charge made for use.

“It therefore appears that the vehicles are not ‘shared’ between the organisations, but are hired out from one organisation to the other,” he says.

“The county council is currently seeking absolute clarification from the Traffic Commissioner that this arrangement is acceptable.”

His report says county council chief executive Gillian Beasley together with himself and other officials will determine whether FACT passes the ‘fit and proper’ person test to enable commercial work to continue.

They are awaiting final evidence of this.

Mr Wilkinson said the external investigators are still working on further detail looking at calculating “any competitive advantage” conferred on FACT through previous grant awards.

He said the county council was still looking at whether the community transport provider held the correct licences to carry out school contracts and to take people to and from day centres.

PKF have produced a draft report looking at calculating any competitive advantage conferred on FACT through previous grant awards.

“The next step will be for management to review this,” says Mr Wilkinson.

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