Manager of community transport schemes: FACT, HACT and ESACT, resigns after investigation into how they operate
The manager of three community transport organisations has stepped down following a lengthy investigation into the way they have operated.
Jo Philpott announced her resignation last week following a six-hour special meeting of Cambridgeshire County Council's audit and accounts committee, which discussed the detailed findings of an independent investigation into FACT, HACT and ESACT (Fenland Association for Community Transport, Huntingdonshire Association for Community Transport and East and South Cambridgeshire Association for Community Transport).
Private investigators KPF were appointed by the council's chief executive, Gillian Beasely, following a lengthy campaign by taxi drivers.
The investigation cost £200,000 and was commissioned after the six-year battle by taxi drivers, who complained their businesses were undercut once the schemes took on commercial contracts, such as school transport, thanks to the grants.
The county council as well as some parish and district councils gave around £300,000 worth of grants to FACT, which provides transport for people in rural areas who do not have a car and lack public transport access.
FACT claimed its dial-a-ride service was loss-making and so it needed to do commercial work, such as the school contracts, to continue the scheme - but admitted "mistakes were made".
The investigation found FACT had exaggerated demand when applying for grants and that the county council had given the money without applying proper scrutiny.
The council said it would be reviewing its contract with the organisations but added it would be "unfair to people who currently rely on it" to cancel the contract immediately.
Meanwhile, FACT's vice-chairman Councillor Kit Owen issued a statement saying the organisation had held an emergency meeting following the audit committee hearing.
He said: "Trustee members who were present were left in no doubt that methods of operation needed to change.
"We have listened to the concerns and debate and to that end we will continue to work with the audit and accounts committee and the council to look at additional ways to improve our own procedures and how we operate.
"The trustees have not lost sight of the reason for its existence, to provide community transport to the most isolated, elderly and those with mobility issues.
"We heard loud and clear during the meeting that we need to explore the board membership and so we will introduce people with the skills and expertise to further enhance the top-quality community transport that we provide.
"FACT/HACT & ESACT Trustee boards have already appointed a finance and general purposes committee to ensure closer scrutiny of the general management of all three organisations.
"In addition to these actions we have already opened separate bank accounts to create a clear distinction between the community transport/dial-a-ride and the commercial activity and will have repaid all loans by end of August 2018.
"In light of recent events Jo Philpott has decided to resign from the organisations. We have appointed Steve Shannon as temporary manager, who has resigned as a trustee.
"We welcome the involvement and scrutiny of the county council and will be working closely with the county to ensure there are proper checks and balances – we can all do better.
"We remain committed to providing a community transport service that is seen as a lifeline for many especially in our very rural area where there is a lack of provision or other forms of transport that maybe too expensive for some."
More by this authorSarah Cliss