Dickson ceases trading in wake of concessionary fares scam discovery

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Transport Scotland had genuine cause to suspect a fraud or frauds were being perpetrated
Transport Scotland had genuine cause to suspect a fraud or frauds were being perpetrated

Lack of co-operation with a Transport Scotland investigation raises suspicions of professional competence.

Traffic Commissioner (TC) for Scotland, Joan Aitken, has disqualified Steward Dickson, trading as Dickson of Erskine, for an indefinate period of time. The decision was reached without Public Inquiry (PI).


Mr Dickson, has held a standard national public service vehicle operator’s licence since April 24, 1992. The operating centre was at Scotts Road in Paisley. Authorisation was for eight vehicles, with 12 discs in issue and two local services were being operated under the licence.

Mr Dickson appeared at a PI on two previous occasions for roadworthiness related matters. The first of these was on September 28, 2004 when a formal warning was issued and the second was on August 27, 2009 when a condition was attached to the licence.

By application dated September 16, 2013, Mr Dickson applied to surrender the licence and he returned the licence and discs. However it is open to a TC to refuse to accept surrender of a licence, a power which the TC used.

The reasons for the refusal arose from the TC’s office having received serious adverse reports from VOSA Traffic and Vehicle Examiners and from Transport Scotland. In usual circumstances a call to PI would have been inevitable. The TC decided that it was not in the public interest to accept surrender given that Mr Dickson might seek to obtain an O-licence in future.

Propose to revoke and offer of Public Inquiry

The VOSA reports disclosed ill health on the part of Mr Dickson and accordingly a proposal to revoke and disqualify letter dated November 19, 2013 was sent to Mr Dickson. The letter gave Mr Dickson until December 10 to ask for a Public Inquiry.

The letter stated that the TC was in receipt of a Transport Scotland report concerning concessionary card fraud and VOSA Examiner reports indicating shortcomings in the maintenance systems. The report also advised that the nominated Transport Manager, Andrew Wallace, had not been fulfilling the role for a substantial period of time. No request for a Public Inquiry was received from Mr Dickson nor any other response.

The Vehicle Examiner report indicated that a maintenance investigation was carried out on August 28, 2013 and three vehicles were inspected. A delayed ‘S’ marked PG9 was issued. Shortcomings were identified and extensive advice given to the operator on the importance of vehicle inspection, maintenance and record completion, driver defect reporting, forward planner and the operator’s high annual test fail rate. Test history for the previous two years showed no passes; eight failures and three PRS (Pass Rectified at Station).

The Transport Manager, Andrew Wallace, was unavailable and a PG35EC was left for Mr Wallace to reply to. Mr Dickson replied:

  1. There have been two first time vehicle MOT passes since April out of a possible five;
  2. The forward planner will be rectified to show January/ February 2014;
  3. The mechanic takes safety sheets home to look over work and this was the reason why they were not available at the premises; and
  4. Drivers do carry out their walk round checks, however the sheets were not available as they were in the mechanic’s locker at the time of your visit.

Mr Dickson also mentioned that he had received a visit from an SPT engineer and two vehicles were checked with no defects recorded. He also pointed out that within eight days, five of his vehicles had been independently checked, with one delayed prohibition recorded.

The Traffic Examiner was unable to complete a systems check as requested by the TC’s office. The Examiner attempted to arrange interviews with Mr Dickson and Mr Wallace but these appointments were cancelled due to Mr Dickson’s ill health and him deciding to cease trading, and Mr Wallace’s driving duties.

Mr Wallace, nominated Transport Manager, has not been fulfilling this role for a substantial period of time. On examining the record sheets produced by Mr Wallace’s employer these showed that he is away on tour frequently and therefore was unable to allocate the 25 hours needed each week to fulfil his duties as Transport Manager on the Dickson licence. It was VOSA’s conclusion that the operator had effectively been running with little or no Transport Manager. Mr Wallace has since resigned.

Concessionary fares scam uncovered

The TC’s office received a report from Transport Scotland detailing alleged concessionary card fraud totalling £17,323.94. Transport Scotland’s suspicions were raised in September 2010 when carrying out an audit of reimbursement claims. In particular it identified that one card was being used to generate journeys in excess of 20 per day. This was only on Dickson of Erskine routes and only using the one ETM (Electronic Ticket Machine). Checks were made and the card had not been reported lost or stolen and was eventually traced to Donald Rennie, an employee of Mr Dickson. It was confirmed that Mr Rennie’s card was used to generate 1,282 journeys.

Donald Rennie was interviewed on November 6, 2012 and initially denied the allegations. However, when presented with the analysis he accepted that he had used the card while on duty at Erskine. Transport Scotland has since confirmed that Mr Rennie was charged and appeared at Paisley Sheriff Court on August 7, 2013.

Mr Dickson was not open, transparent or co-operative with Transport Scotland. It was Transport Scotland’s view that he did not co-operate with them in their investigation of fraud against the concessionary fare scheme. Had the case gone to Public Inquiry, Transport Scotland witnesses would have given detail of their attempts to enlist Mr Dickson’s co-operation.

The prosecution case involving driver Donald Rennie has not yet concluded. He is due to appear again later this month.

Consideration of Information

On the basis of the information available, it appeared that Mr Dickson who had twice before been at P1 on roadworthiness related issues, still remained below the standards required of the licence undertakings. Vehicles failed at annual test and one vehicle received an S marked prohibition.

That said, there were some signs (as reflected in Mr Dickson’s reply to VOSA) that he could heed the advice given by VOSA and could get his vehicles to standard if he applied himself. “Put another way, and in fairness to him, he was by no means at the worst end of the spectrum of non-compliance,” said TC Joan Aitken.

The VOSA Examiners found that Transport Manager Andrew Wallace was absent due to his full-time driving duties for a coach operator. He is to face a PI into his repute and professional competence given what the Examiners found. From the content of the VOSA reports, it was clear Andrew Wallace was not undertaking the Transport Manager role and thus this licence lacked professional competence. This was viewed to have damaged the repute of the operator as well as his own professional competence.

“Public passenger travel in Scotland for those who are aged, disabled or otherwise entitled to concessionary travel proceeds through Transport Scotland’s Concessionary Fares Scheme,” Joan Aikten explained. “The successful operation of the scheme depends on the honesty of operators and their employees and co-operation between Transport Scotland and operators.

“Transport Scotland has an audit function. Its officials had genuine cause to suspect that a fraud or frauds was or were being perpetrated on the Scheme. They sought to investigate this and to have Mr Dickson’s assistance in their investigation. It is apparent that they met with obstruction and difficulty to such a degree that they considered there to be an issue with the repute of Mr Dickson as an operator.

“I agree with them in that respect and they should have received his full co-operation in their legitimate auditing of claims.”

Moving on to the fate of the operator, the TC continued: “This is not a case where I have to pose the question as to whether it is proportionate that I put the operator out of business. He has done that himself, at least for the time being. However had I been placed to pose that question I would have answered that it was. He has fallen below the standards of compliance required of an operator.

“Having decided that I must revoke the licence, I have considered whether I should use my power of disqualification and if so, for how long. This is difficult for me in that I have not heard Mr Dickson’s side of matters – especially in relation to the Transport Scotland investigation. I consider that the appropriate period is an indefinite one, for that would give Mr Dickson the opportunity to make an application to me at any time to remove the order of disqualification and to give evidence to me.


“The O-licence held by Mr Dickson trading as Dickson of Erskine is revoked with immediate effect in terms of section 17(1) of the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981, on the grounds that the operator no longer meets the requirement of good repute in terms of section 14ZA.

Mr Dickson is disqualified indefinitely in terms of section 28(1) and (4) of the Transport Act 1985 from obtaining or holding a licence in this or any other traffic area or being the director of or having a controlling interest in any company or partnership operating public service vehicles. The period will be indefinite.”