BUSK critical of Darlington Council over Section 19 operator

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Council contracted a community transport operator to run school transport without an O-licence, which BUSK claims was illegal. The service is now being retendered

Belt Up School Kids (BUSK) has strongly criticised Darlington Borough Council for allowing a Section 19 operator to run contracted school services without an O-licence.

BUSK said it provided evidence to the council which made it clear that the charity which had been contracted for the operation has been ‘operating illegally,’ but claimed the authority’s legal department has chosen to ignore it.

Darlington District & Youth Community Association (DDYCA) is registered as a charity and runs transport services using a Section 19 Permit. BUSK stated that the permit allows a voluntary operation to transport passengers under strict rules that do not permit them to charge a fare or take payment, and the charity has been contracted by the council for at least five years.

The DDYCA applied for school contracts and when it secured them was paid in the region of £1,000,000. BUSK provided evidence showing that in order to do this legally they should have been operating under an O-licence granted by a traffic commissioner. If granted an O-licence, the DDYCA would then have been required to employ PSV drivers that also held a CPC certification.

BUSK Director, Pat Harris, said: “By virtue of their actions in this matter, Darlington Borough Council and its legal department appear to have acted as if they are not required to be accountable either for the safety of children in their care or for how they use public funds.

“I believe the Council needs to be investigated at the highest level on both counts. Last week the Council admitted to paying these huge sums of money to DDYCA and also paying two other charities to drive passengers including children on the school run. This inevitably means the amount of public money spent in this way is going to be extremely high.

“This is a very serious matter and one that is also likely to have had a huge effect within the local economy because local commercial operators, who are fully compliant with O-licences, have potentially lost a lot of business as a result of this authority’s actions. Obviously, from a business perspective, a charity operating in accordance with a Section 19 Permit doesn’t have many of the expenses and overheads required of an O-license operator, so to then operate commercially puts them at a significant advantage. Section 19 Permits do not allow this and they were never intended to be used in this way.

“The laws are in place to keep passengers safe and the Council and charities are not above the law.”

A spokesman from Darlington Borough Council told CBW: “BUSK raised concerns about a contractor the council was using to provide transport we have a statutory responsibility to provide. We took all the appropriate steps to ensure the arrangement was compliant with regulations, and the Office of the Traffic Commissioner has confirmed there was no breach.”