Ferryhill fails to pay BSOG debt

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Keith Hammond of Ferryhill Village Travel has damaged his good repute after failing to pay a debt to the public purse for nearly four years, North East Traffic Commissioner Kevin Rooney has ruled.

The TC also recorded an undertaking on the operator’s licence held by Hammond to ensure the outstanding debt is paid in full by October 20, 2013.

His direction follows a PI held on May 30, 2013 into Mr Hammond’s failure to submit the relevant paperwork to support an advance BSOG payment of £14,000.

During the inquiry, Kevin Rooney heard evidence from a BSOG official that Mr Hammond did not supply a claim form as required in November 2009. A debt recovery process and County Court Judgement subsequently followed.

The operator eventually submitted a completed form in May 2013, which had been certified by an accountant. The claim was worth £2,800 but the BSOG official indicated it was probably a significant understatement due to a lack of fuel receipts, which are required as evidence.

In his first year of operating on the BSOG scheme, the operator had submitted his claim on time.

Hammond told the TC the receipts had been destroyed in an electrical fire at his pub in March 2009. He also said he had not intended the debt to go unpaid.

Hammond explained he spent six months of the year in Majorca, where he owns and runs a bar. He also had other business interests. He was out of the country for large periods and had expected his fuel supplier to provide duplicate receipts after the fire.

But in his written decision issued after the hearing, the TC said Hammond had failed to provide a reasonable explanation for allowing the debt to go unpaid.

He said: “The government provides a significant grant to offset the costs of operating local bus services. Payment up front provides welcome cash-flow for many operators. Such payment is based on trust in exactly the same way O-licensing is based on trust. Mr Hammond betrayed that by not keeping the appropriate records.”

Mr Rooney noted, although some of the fuel receipts were lost in a fire, five out of 12 months should have been available. Mr Hammond had only been able to produce a quarter of the receipts with his claim.

He also took account of evidence received after the hearing showing that Hammond had agreed a repayment structure with BSOG officials, to ensure the debt was settled by October 23.

The TC also recorded a warning against the operator’s licence for a vehicle prohibition issued in 2009 and Hammond’s failure to notify the County Court Judgement.