‘Commercial interest’ stalls not-for-profit investigation

An investigation into the circumstances in which DANSA – the community transport company sanctioned at Public Inquiry – had licensing charges dropped is awaiting answers to Freedom of Information requests.

The South Wales operator runs vehicles with 32 Section 19/22 permits, despite having four O licences. A Public Inquiry headed by Traffic Commissioner Nick Jones was held on 15 April this year and, in September, the TC issued a formal warning against the operator and revocation of its permits by 31 December (see B&CB 1549, 27 September). Nick Jones, who has since retired, said he invited the company to apply for more O licences, which he said would be dealt with by the incoming TC.

Adjudicating that DANSA had won contested contracts, he said that the council’s belief that the commercial bids had been ‘excessive’ did not, in itself, prove the bid from DANSA was non-commercial. At the core of his decision was that DANSA held both Section 19/22 permits and an O licence, which they agreed were incompatible.

At the PI, the TC raised the issue of two £300 penalty charges issued by the police in May 2018 for not operating with an O licence. Those penalties were never paid, and the TC recorded that an MP and the Ministry of Justice had stepped in to quash the fines on the basis that there was ‘no merit’ in pursuing them.

A Bus and Coach Buyer correspondent, investigating the correspondence between the MP and the MoJ, obtained a copy of a letter from the MoJ’s Lucy Frazer QC – Conservative MP for South East Cambridgeshire – dated 16 July 2018.

Responding to Neath MP Christina Rees, Mrs Frazer notes Ms Rees’ email to Secretary of State for Justice, David Gauke MP, on behalf of DANSA and writes: “I appreciate that being asked to pay these fines is financially burdensome for DANSA Ltd, as a not-for-profit organisation. I understand that you feel this is unethical, given the nature of DANSA’s work and how it is funded.”

However, the letter also says Mrs Frazer asked HMCTS why “enforcement against DANSA Ltd continued after the police suggested it would be placed on hold while they sought legal advice.” This is directly contradicted by the TC’s evidence from the issuing officer, PC Phillip David, who said that advice from counsel was taken before the fines were issued, and that this advice confirmed that South Wales Police’s interpretation of the law was correct.

Mrs Frazer’s letter goes on to say the HM Courts & Tribunal Service (HMCTS) issued the fines, then withdrew them two weeks later. B&CB’s correspondent has sought documents from South Wales Police relating to the decision to issue the fines, but has been told that PC David has retired, and the documents may not be available.

Additionally, a copy of the email to David Gauke, referred to by Mrs Frazer, has been sought but a request for correspondence from a civil servant about the chargeas has now been delayed on the basis of possible ‘commercial interest’ says a reply from Wales’ Department for Economy and Transport.

At the Public Inquiry, Nick Jones commented: “It is clear that many felt that the fixed penalties were incorrectly issued, however they were not disputed formally, this would have resulted in a court hearing which could have tested the legality or otherwise of the issue of the fixed penalties.”

Inquiries have revealed that, at the time of publication, DANSA had still made no application for additional O licences, and it may now be doubtful they could be issued in time.

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