Philpott forced out at Fenland Association for Community Transport three days after facing outcome of £170,000 county council report
PUBLISHED: 22:34 03 August 2018 | UPDATED: 15:16 04 August 2018
Manager Jo Philpott – fresh from a barrage of criticism over her running of Cambridgeshire’s biggest community transport scheme – has been forced out.
An official statement tonight from the Fenland Association for Community Transport (FACT) said that “in light of recent events Jo Philpott has decided to resign”.
The reality of course was that she had no option with her organisation and disingenuous stance over grant applications and false membership claims exposed during a six hour grilling by the audit committee of Cambridgeshire County Council.
Her ally, friend and FACT vice chairman Councillor Kit Owen had until the last moment described the discrepancies found in the PKF £170,000 county council investigation as “historic”.
During a lunch break during Tuesday’s meeting of the audit committee at Shire Hall he laughed at taxi drivers and journalists who challenged him on the morning’s debate.
But tonight, and faced with the real prospect of county council contracts at risk for FACT and its subsidiary organisations in Ely and Soham (ESACT) and Huntingdonshire (HACT), the board called an emergency meeting.
“Trustee members who were present were left in no doubt that methods of operation needed to change,” said Cllr Owen through a statement released afterwards.
“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 county council to look at additional ways to improve our own procedures and how we operate”
His statement said: “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.”
He also revealed that additionally that no longer would HACT, FACT and ESACT share a single bank account – one source of amazement by councillors during the committee meeting.
“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 (referred to in Tuesday’s meeting as training manager) as temporary manager who has resigned as a trustee.”
Cllr Owen added: “We welcome the involvement and scrutiny of the county council and will be working closely with the county council to ensure there are proper checks and balances – we can all do better.”
He added: “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.”
His statement tonight was in stark contrast to Tuesday when he played down the report, claiming the issues uncovered were historic and been dealt with,
“It is philanthropy that drives our staff not money,” he said.
The committee heard that a £60,000 loan and a Citroen had been returned by FACT to the council (council officials had forgotten to chase it up).
And a further £300,000 may be required to be paid back once more investigatory work has been done on public sector funding and whether grants have been given in breach of regulations.
Audit committee member Cllr John Williams said: “I have been waiting to hear – for the whole of today – from FACT for an apology.
“But all I have got so far is like a bank – we’re too big to fail and you have to put up with us because you’ve got no-one else”
Questions over whether Mr Shannon should have been a trustee of the charity registered subsidiaries, HACT and ESACT, remained unanswered tonight.
Earlier this week Cllr Owen claimed that “the majority of the issues are historic – which we have dealt with.”
He said: “A number of the issues we have sort legal advice and acted upon the advice. “However as with a number of issues such as State Aid there is not a clear legal definition and different barristers have given conflicting advice.
“Nothing has been done for personal gain.
“Where mistakes were made we have accepted them and made changes to ensure they do not occur again.”
Speaking at the conclusion of Tuesday’s meeting, Mrs Philpott said: “We have listened to incorrect facts. We have done other work to fund and address any losses made.
“The committee should consider and care about our passengers like we do.”