AM: time to clamp down on bus fraud

Caernarfon Herald - - NEWS -

UR­GENT steps should be im­ple­mented by coun­cils to se­cure bus ser­vices in North Wales fol­low­ing the con­vic­tion for fraud of four men, says an AM.

Ex­press Mo­tors owner Eric Wyn Jones and his three sons face lengthy prison sen­tences after be­ing found guilty of mak­ing fraud­u­lent claims to Gwynedd Coun­cil for fake pas­sen­ger jour­neys us­ing con­ces­sion­ary bus passes.

They were also found guilty of si­phon­ing more than £500,000 into their own bank ac­counts and fail­ing to in­form the tax au­thor­i­ties.

It is the sec­ond time in four years a Gwynedd-based bus com­pany has been found to be mak­ing false claims on the con­ces­sion­ary pass scheme.

Two bosses at Llan­beris-based Padarn Bus were jailed in 2016 for claim­ing more money than was owed.

Fol­low­ing the jury’s de­ci­sion to find the Ex­press Mo­tors bosses guilty Ar­fon AM Sian Gwen­l­lian said: “This type of sit­u­a­tion must never be al­lowed to hap­pen again. My con­stituents need to be con­fi­dent that pub­lic money will not be mis­used and to that ef­fect, ro­bust pro­cesses need to be put in place as a mat­ter of ur­gency.

“Look­ing at the big­ger pic­ture, the Welsh Govern­ment need to find a sus­tain­able so­lu­tion to sup­port ru­ral bus ser­vice users so that com­mu­ni­ties in Ar­fon are not left iso­lated.”

When Padarn Bus folded in May 2014 coun­cil of­fi­cers were forced to work quickly to find other bus com­pa­nies to op­er­ate the bus ser­vices.

A sim­i­lar ex­er­cise was car­ried out at the end of last year when the Traf­fic Com­mis­sioner for Wales re­voked Ex­press Mo­tors’ op­er­at­ing li­cence.

The fa­mil­iar yel­low and white buses of Ex­press Mo­tors op­er­ated an ex­ten­sive net­work of ser­vices in Gwynedd, An­gle­sey and parts of Conwy and Ceredi­gion.

Re­spond­ing to Ms Gwen­l­lian’s call for ac­tion a Gwynedd Coun­cil spokesper­son said: “This was an ex­tremely se­ri­ous case which in­volved sig­nif­i­cant sums of money be­ing fraud­u­lently ob­tained from the pub­lic purse.

“As soon as we sus­pected some pos­si­ble ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties at Ex­press Mo­tors re­gard­ing the con­ces­sion­ary bus pay­ments, we im­me­di­ately in­ves­ti­gated the mat­ter. As a re­sult of this ini­tial in­ves­ti­ga­tion, we then re­ferred the mat­ter to North Wales Po­lice.

“Since then, the Welsh Govern­ment has been re­view­ing pro­ce­dures for record­ing and claim­ing con­ces­sion­ary fares for all lo­cal au­thor­i­ties. It is an­tic­i­pated that these new all-Wales pro­ce­dures will be im­ple­mented in the near fu­ture.”

The Welsh Govern­ment con­firmed this to be the case. A spokesman said: “Lo­cal au­thor­i­ties are re­spon­si­ble for the re­im­burse­ment of bus op­er­a­tors un­der the con­ces­sion­ary fare scheme. A num­ber of mea­sures to de­tect and pre­vent sim­i­lar frauds have al­ready been in­tro- duced and we con­tinue to work with lo­cal au­thor­i­ties on de­vel­op­ing ad­di­tional mea­sures.”

Re­fer­ring to the Padarn Bus col­lapse the coun­cil spokesper­son added: “When the ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties at Padarn Bus be­came ap­par­ent, the coun­cil re­viewed the pro­ce­dures at all other bus com­pa­nies to check that oth­ers were not com­mit­ting the same fraud; they were not.

“How­ever, the find­ings of that in­ves­ti­ga­tion meant that we were able to iden­tify fur­ther ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties within claims for con­ces­sion­ary fares, and we re­ferred our con­cerns about Ex­press Mo­tors im­me­di­ately.

“Whilst this was an ex­tremely com­plex in­ves­ti­ga­tion, we are grate­ful to North Wales Po­lice and the Crown Pros­e­cu­tion Ser­vice for their work on the case.”

The four Ex­press Mo­tors bosses are due to be sen­tenced at Mold Crown Court on Oc­to­ber 31.

● Guilty: Clock­wise from top left: Eric Wyn Jones, Ian Wyn Jones, Keith Jones and Kevin Wyn Jones

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