‘Bus pass fraud cannot happen again... we need more foolproof system’
C“Not only has it proved to be insufficient, I’d also argue that it even encourages fraud. “There hasn’t been enough sharing of information and the potential risks have been obvious from the start. It begs the question, had a member of the public not complained, would it still be going on now?
“It’s shocking that the situation was allowed to manifest for so long – the scale of the fraud committed here is enough to make one’s hair stand on end.”
The Wayfarer data recording system, supplied by Parkeon, was installed on Express and other companies’ coaches as part of a contract with the Welsh Government, which funds the concessionary rates scheme for over 60s and other eligible pass holders.
The investigation into Express Motors began in 2014 when Gwynedd council received complaints from customers that bus travel cards were being swiped more than once.
With the findings reported to police, it later came to light that travel cards were still functional despitep having been cancelled on the systemsystem by council officers after, for examB example, being reported lost or stolen.
Before the investigation started, nono reports of unusual patterns had bbeen flagged up by the system that would have raised alarm bells over excessive swiping of travel cards.
Instead, Gwynedd officers had to cocontact ACT, the company responsible for the bus travel cards themselves, to obtain details for aall cards that had been used OUNCILLORS have hit out at a “not fit for purpose” monitoring system for failing to flag up earlier a local bus company defrauding taxpayers.
In October the owner of Penygroes-based Express Motors, Eric Wyn Jones, and his three sons Ian Wyn, Keith and Kevin Wyn, were jailed for sentences ranging six years to seven and a half years each after fraudulently claiming money back from Gwynedd Council for 88,000 fake journeys using over-60s bus passes.
A fifth man, bus driver Rheinallt Williams, had already pleaded guilty to swiping cards on behalf of his employers, and was sentenced to 12 months in prison.
One card had been used 23,000 times, the jury was told, while another had been used thousands of times even after its owner had died, with 32 lost or stolen concessionary passes used to commit the fraud between June 2012 and July 2014.
But councillors sitting on Gwynedd’s edd’s Audit Committee have blasted what hat they described as a “deficient” sysstem – which has since been n replaced – for not picking up the fraudulent activity sooner.
Cllr Alwyn Gruffydd told lastweek’s meeting in Caernarfon: “It’s easy to look back at this sorry y chapter, but to be honest this is a severe condemnation of the sys● ‘SHOCKING’: Cllr tem that was in place. Alwyn Gruffydd more than three times on any day ay on routes serviced by Express Motors ors in Gwynedd between September er 2013 and February 2014.
The Welsh Government has since procured a new system that replaces the Parkeon system, but ACT will continue to supply travel cards and provide card transaction data.
But Dafydd Wyn Williams, ● ‘RISKS’: Cllr head of Gwynedd Council’s Dafydd Meurig environment department, told councillors there were still potential risks.
He said: “I understand the criticism that something should have been done sooner, but there were flaws in that system that we weren’t aware of until very late on.
“It’s difficult to see how the council could have foreseen the pitfalls. We knew that some companies were showing higher numbers of concessionary rates than others, but there are many possible explanations this.
“In order to discover the fraud that was committed, we’ve had to go way beyond what was asked of us.
“While things have improved, we remain concerned that there’s still an element of risk within the system.”
The council’s report into the matter also noted that the Welsh Government recently placed a requirement on all councils who wish to continue to be part of the concessionary fares scheme to sign a new contract stating they will be held liable for any fraud discovered. Cllr Dafydd Meurig, who leads on envi environmental issues, had reservation tions about signing up to such an ag agreement.
“It’s great that people are able to trtravel freely on these buses and ththe thought of us withdrawing frfrom the (concessionary) agreement is something we’d want to aavoid at all costs,” he said.
“But while the risks continue tot be there it certainly concerns us,u and the long-term answer is surely a more robust and foolproof system. Something along the lines of an Oyster Card, like they have in London, would certainly fit the bill in my view.”
In response, a Welsh Government spokesman said: “The new contract is a Welsh Government standard grant offer letter for the concessionary fare scheme, which was first issued for 2017-18 to provide funding certainty for local authorities.
“It confirms the Welsh Government would cover the sums over and above local authorities’ historic payment – in Gwynedd Council’s case this is £467,000 – for concessionary travel in their area along with funding for administration of the scheme.
“This does not alter the local authority’s obligation to undertake due diligence and protect public funds for the benefit of their residents when making payments.
“In this instance these payments relate to an enhancement of a scheme that the local authority was already operating for the benefit of their residents.”
● Clockwise from top left: Eric Wyn Jones, Ian Wyn Jones, Kevin Wyn Jones and Keith Jones were jailed for their parts in the fraud at Express Motors (main)