June 18 2013 Latest news:
Thursday, October 25, 2012
ANGRY Fenland taxi drivers are calling on MP Steve Barclay to investigate the operations of the community transport organisation FACT – claiming that rules are being broken as it expands its operation.
FACT – Fenland Association for Community Transport – has declared that its principal activity is to provide transport for “people who experience mobility difficulties.”
But taxi drivers in March and Wisbech say FACT is operating outside that remit, and the increase in its timetabled dial-a-ride service, school transport and trips to weddings, airports and funerals are putting taxi drivers’ jobs at risk.
Drivers are also concerned that Councillor Kit Owen, portfolio holder for transport at Fenland District Council has a conflict of interest by serving on the executive committee of FACT.
Dave Humphrey, a spokesman for March taxi drivers, said: “How can Kit Owen be in charge of licensing and sit on the executive committee of an organisation that is taking business away from the taxi industry by breaking its own rules?”
“He is putting livelihoods at risk in an industry he is supposed to be regulating. I believe FACT is breaking its rules by working outside the principal activities it declared to the FSA.
“We believe that 80 or 90 per cent of their income comes from activities that fall outside their principal activity.”
Manager of FACT, Jo Philpott, does not believe that FACT is affecting taxi drivers, and has stressed that FACT’s services can only be used by its 2,000 plus members.
“We are a door to door service. Some of our passengers live in a village where there is no bus service and they have no access to a car and cannot afford other modes of transport,” she said. “FACT is considered a huge lifeline to these people.”
According to last year’s accounts, FACT had a turnover of £408,000, with £72,819 coming from its dial-a-ride service and £236,847 from the hire of mini-buses, as well as more than £109,000 in grants. It carries between 1600 and 2000 passengers each month.
Cllr Dave Patrick, chairman of the Wisbech and District Hackney Carriage Drivers’ Association, said: “How can we compete with that when they are receiving grant funding, how can we tender for contracts when they have a head start on us.”
A FACT executive report states that 64,753 dial-a- ride passengers were carried last year, an increase in journeys of 24 per cent. That report also thanked two members of staff from Fenland District Council for their help with marketing.
Mr Humphrey claimed the FACT dial-a-ride service “is a private hire company acting as a charity.”
Councillor Dave Patrick added: “FACT is putting legitimate businesses at risk. They are tendering for commercial work and undercutting bona fide contractors, because they get their vehicles bought for them, and receive grants, that is why they are able to undercut us.”
A Cambridgeshire County Council website reveals the authority reduced its school contract payments to the March taxi industry by £73,000 last year, while at the same time it increased those payments to FACT by more than £18,000.
Mr Patrick said: “I believe by tendering for school contracts they are acting as a commercial business.
And Mr Humphrey added: “There is a correlation between what the taxi industry is losing and what FACT is gaining.”
He added: “I would not want to do harm to a legitimate charitable organisation as long as they stick within the boundaries of their stated aims.”
Councillor Kit Owen said there is no conflict of interest between his roles with the district council and FACT.
“FACT is one of many services provided in addition to hospital cars, taxis, buses and trains, and a whole plethora of transport. I don’t see a conflict. FACT is working in conjunction with other transport options. We provide wider services to meet the needs of the community.”
* To register with FACT call 01354 661234 or go to the website.