1. WESTERN TRAFFIC AREA
two. Decision of the Traffic Commissioner
2.1 Public Inquiry in Bristol, 31 August 2021
Four. MAX VENABLES – TRANSPORT MANAGER
Plymouth Albion Rugby Football Club (2016) Ltd (“PARF”) is the holder of a standard international public service vehicle operator’s license authorizing the use of three vehicles from a site as Roodscroft, Hatt, Saltash, PL12 6PJ. There are six directors; Alison Hannaford, David Venables, Nigel Sparrow, Max Venables, Kevin Norris and Graham Hannaford. Max Venables is also the listed transport manager.
The operator has no prior compliance history. On 12 February 2021, Traffic Enforcement Manager Andrew Ball visited PARF’s operating center to conduct an investigation. The outcome was a highly unsatisfactory score with many shortcomings. Of particular concern was a finding that the operator was engaged in the transport of contingent labor from the Plymouth district to the dockyard. PARF had received this contract from Dealtop (Plymouth) Limited (“Dealtop”) and one of the drivers was Robert Risk, Dealtop’s director.
Dealtop held license PH1020218 which was revoked on 22 December 2018. It then held PH2015480 until that was revoked on 17 February 2020. Robert Risk was disqualified from holding or obtaining an operator’s license from that date for two years. Mr Ball found that the drivers used by PARF were supplied by Dealtop and referred to as “self-employed”. The operation was a Dealtop contract apparently sub-contracted to PARF but without any supporting documentation and continued to be driven by Dealtop’s drivers. I was concerned that PARF might be providing some sort of front for the continued involvement of Robert Risk in the management of a PSV operation. There were many further shortcomings identified by Mr Ball such as operating from an unauthorized operating centre.
These shortcomings caused me to call the company to public inquiry in the following terms:
Under Section 17(1)(a) that the holder of the license may no longer satisfy the requirements of Section 14ZA(2), namely that the license holder no longer meets the requirement of:
Section 14ZA(2)(a) to have an effective and stable establishment in Great Britain (as determined in accordance with Article 5 of the 2009 Regulation),
Section 14ZA(2)(b) to be of good reputation (as determined in accordance with paragraphs 1 to 5 of Schedule 3 of the Act),
Section 14ZA(2)(c) to be of the appropriate financial standing (as determined in accordance with Article 7 of the 2009 Regulation),
Section 14ZA(2)(d) to be professionally competent (as determined in accordance with paragraphs 3 to 7 of Schedule 3 of the Act).
Under Section 17(1)(b) of the Act and Section 14ZA(3) of the Act, that the nominated transport manager may not be exercising continuous and effective management of the transport operations;
Under Section 17(3)(aa) of the 1981 Act, that any undertaking recorded in the license has not been fulfilled, specifically:
that the rules on drivers hours and records would be observed
that vehicles would be kept fit and serviceable
that there would be effective driver defect reporting
that maintenance records would be properly kept
Under Section 17(3)(aa) of the Act, that the operator may not have honored the license undertakings
Under Section 17(3)(e) of the Act, material change in relation to financial standing
Mr Max Venables was called to consider his good reputation as transport manager.
6. THE PUBLIC INQUIRY
Mr Max Venables attended the inquiry unrepresented. I have submitted a letter of explanation in advance.
The oral evidence is electronically recorded and a transcript is available on request; I repeat here only that which is central to my decision.
The operator fully complied with the Covid directions and provided all requested documents in advance for which I was grateful. Financial standing was satisfied as a preliminary matter.
The PSV operation was originally for movement of the team and associated personnel. They had thought that they could operate under a permit but, on buying the coach, been told otherwise and applied for the license.
Mr Venables had been a transport manager on a goods license and then took his PSV CPC. There was an opportunity to make money from the team bus. Given the team’s location in south Devon, they traveled more than other clubs. There had been a historic relationship with Dealtop for drivers. When he heard that Dealtop had lost its operator’s license, he had spoken with them about potential opportunities. The core business had been heavily hit by Covid – the last away match was March 2020.
The operation moving Babcock workers started around July 2020. They had agreed to buy the double-deckers but not pay up front; it was deducted from what they were paid for the job. Robert Risk drove the buses which still belonged to Dealtop and Dealtop maintained them.
The main requirement was to keep the team coach operating. The buses were for sale. The contract to move Babcock workers had ended. A condition preventing third-party hire for a limited period would not impact too severely on the club but revocation of the license might render the business unviable.
All that was really important to the club’s survival financially was the operation of the team bus. Mr Venables would be content to stand-down as transport manager. They could find another transport manager. Mr Venables had believed that the revocation of Dealtop was purely down to financial standing.
7. CONSIDERATION AND FINDINGS OF FACTS
The contract being operated belonged to Dealtop. The drivers were employed by Dealtop. The vehicles were owned by – albeit being purchased from – Dealtop. Dealtop was responsible for the maintenance. It is difficult to resist a finding that the operator provided a front for the continuing operation – if on a limited basis – of Dealtop. I believe Max Venables understands that. It is a finding that I make.
In making that finding, I find that Max Venables and this operator facilitated the ongoing operation of an operator I have previously found to be running a vehicle with bald tyres, running inaccessible vehicles on registered services and a vehicle which was involved in a collision that had multiple serious defects. Matters were so bad that I had disqualified Robert Risk from operating for two years but operate he did, under the cloak of PARC.
There are many other shortcomings as set out in the report from Traffic Enforcement Manager Ball. They include the operating from an unauthorized operating center, the failure properly to manage the Dealtop drivers and the lack of regular driver license checking. I adopted all Mr Ball’s findings as my own.
This is an unusual operation in that the main reason for the operation of a PSV is to reduce the operating costs of the rugby club. Mr Venables told me, and I fully accept, that Covid had impacted on a major scale although the club had achieved income through hire facilities. Were this a more mainstream commercial operator, I would have no hesitation in putting it out of business – but it is not. It has a wider community value and I respect that. I also believe that allows me, just, to answer in the affirmative the key question – can I trust this operator to be compliant in the future?
Max Venables made huge errors of judgment in entering into the arrangement with Dealtop. Such errors do not characterize a transport manager of good reputation and his good reputation of him as such is lost.
Pursuant to findings under Schedule 3 of the Act, Mr Max Venables has forfeited his good reputation as transport manager and is disqualified from acting as such for a period of 12 months and until he attends a transport manager refresher course of a duration at least 2 days . As he is but one director of PARC, the finding of loss of reputation does not extend to the license holder as a whole.
The operator is without professional competence and Section 17(1)(a) is made out. I grant a period of grace of 2 months to remedy that. If it is not addressed within that period, the license is revoked.
Pursuant to a finding of material change in that the operator provided a front for the operation of a revoked and disqualified operator, the license is curtailed to one vehicle only, immediately and until 30 June 2022. Pursuant to the same finding and Section 16(3 ) of the Act, the following condition is attached to the license, immediately and until 30 June 2022:
- the authorized vehicle shall not be used other than for the transport of players and associated staff of Plymouth Albion Rugby Club (2016) Ltd
Traffic Commissioner for the West of England
23 September 2021