‘Bus pass fraud can­not hap­pen again... we need more fool­proof sys­tem’

Caernarfon Herald - - NEWS -

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)

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