Judge-led inquiry to examine Catch22Bus case

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Catch22Bus released a long statement which claimed the DVSA had admitted to ‘genuine errors’ in its investigation of the operator. GARETH EVANS

Operator claims to have been the victim of erroneous practice by the DVSA and said it has spent £85,000 on legal fees so far

A judge-led inquiry is to be made into the handling of the case surrounding Catch22Bus, following complaints made by the operator.

The investigation and reporting of allegations made by Blackpool Council and Blackpool Transport Services Ltd between 2012 and 2014 resulted in Catch22Bus being called to Public Inquiry (PI) to face regulatory action against its O-licence.

The operator has released a statement, which reads: “The admission follows a Subject Access Request (SAR) to the DVSA in August of this year to disclose all correspondence held by them. This resulted in 82 pages of material, of which over 85% of the content was redacted.

“The original complaint made by Blackpool Council to the DVSA back in September 2012 was not disclosed because ‘it no longer exists’ and all material supplied by both Blackpool Council and Blackpool Transport was redacted.

“However, within the limited material that was visible, we were concerned the DVSA, Traffic Commissioners, Blackpool Council and Blackpool Transport were all communicating about our business’s compliance and forthcoming PI without our knowledge and that the information was highly prejudicial and sent to a competitor. A formal complaint was therefore made to the Chief Executive of the DVSA, Gareth Llewellyn, in September 2017.

“Asked why the DVSA did not write up the results of their investigations until after the company had been called to PI to answer to the allegations, the DVSA commented that they ‘sought advice from the Office of the Traffic Commissioner.’ Catch22Bus responded to the DVSA report to correct the substantial errors in the documents back in March 2014, before the first PI, but no formal correction was ever issued by DVSA.

“Based on an incorrect assumption of our compliance, the DVSA has admitted ‘open dialogue between internal DfT agencies in adherence to our policies and procedures’ and this resulted in Bus Service Operator’s Grant (BSOG) payments due to the company being frustrated and delayed. The unredacted disclosures include an email from a DVSA officer in 2014 that ‘the BSOG team advised me that Mr Higgs was becoming more irritated that nothing was being done with his BSOG claim application which had been going on since July 2012.’

“The DVSA confirmed that ‘claims were made that your operating licence was being breached and this was investigated and evidence gathered. Unfortunately, in this case the evidence contained genuine errors and therefore the claims made by Blackpool Council that there were breaches of your operating licence were not upheld.’ However, it was not until November 2016 that the Traffic Commissioners conceded this, after nine PIs and Catch22Bus successfully appealing a decision to revoke its O-licence.

“As a result of the allegations made and the flawed investigation, Catch22Bus has been banned from bidding for contracts by organisations such as Lancashire County Council, attended multiple PIs and has spent over £85,000 in legal fees, which coupled with a substantial amount of bad press, has substantially damaged the potential of the business. The stream of allegations made by Blackpool Council and Blackpool Transport Services Ltd continued up until the Spring of 2014, coinciding with a change of Managing Director.

“The DfT has now agreed to hold a judge-led inquiry into a complaint made by Catch22Bus back in March 2015 about the handling of the case.”

Asked by CBW for a reaction, a DVSA spokesperson said it was unable to comment as the matter is the subject of a judge-led inquiry.

A spokesperson for the Office of the Traffic Commissioner (OTC) told CBW: “As there is an outstanding appeal with the Upper Tribunal related to this case, the OTC will not be providing any comment.”