“Boris Bus” transport firm loses 60% of licences

Olympic South, the transport company which was involved in controversy when awarded the contracts to bus Croydon’s disabled children to school, has now had the licences for 60 of its 100 vehicles withdrawn.

One of Olympic South's mini-buses

One of Olympic South’s mini-buses

The decision to withdraw the licences was taken at a hearing of the Traffic Commissioner on Tuesday. Reports from the meeting suggest that Henry Belinski, the company’s owner, was heavily criticised by the commissioner.

According to an official spokesman for the Traffic Commissioner’s Office, “Following a report from the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) on maintenance grounds, a public enquiry was called to consider the licences of vehicles operated by Olympic South.

“At the hearing, the Traffic Commissioner’s decision was to vary the licences from 100 to 40 with immediate effect.” 

Inside Croydon called Henry Belinski at his Merton Park base to ask him about the hearing. Belinski denied that 60 of his company’s vehicles had been stripped of their public service licences by the Traffic Commissioner, but when asked to explain how this was, he hung up.

On its website, Olympic South, the trading name of Health and Transport Services, claims,
“Our ability to deliver a fully robust, yet flexible service model using an efficiency based platform is demonstrated continually. It is also supported by references from our extensive current partnerships within the healthcare and education industries.”

Unfortunately, it does not appear to be supported by valid licences for vehicles that are safe to operate on the streets of our capital.

Of their fleet of 16- and 32-seater Public Service Vehicle buses, they also claim, “All of our PSV vehicles are maintained to VOSA standards and have a ten week safety inspection to ensure that we operate safe and reliable vehicles.”

Particularly worrying must be the realisation that London’s Mayor, Boris Johnson, may have put his life and limb at risk when campaigning for re-election last year. For it was Belinski and Olympic South who donated the “Boris Battle Bus” to the Conservative Mayoral campaign.

Back in April and May, some noted that the second-hand, former Dublin City double decker had a habit of belching noxious exhaust when firing up. It is not known whether this bus is among the 60 Olympic South vehicles to be stripped of its public operating licence.

Nearly four years ago, Private Eye magazine first exposed some questionable dealings at Croydon Town Hall over the awarding of a multi-million pound contract for transport services to Belinski’s company, after there had been some key council appointments connected to the process.

In September 2009, the mini-cab firm was awarded the £6.5million contract to ferry disabled children between home and school in Croydon. As Private Eye reported, there were cheaper tenders for the work from better-qualified firms based in Croydon.

Nathan Elvery: responsible for school transport contract cock-ups

Nathan Elvery: responsible for school transport contract cock-ups

The decision to award the lucrative contract to Olympic South appeared to be based on advice from Michael Lawrence, a former transport officer at Sutton who was appointed as a consultant by Nathan Elvery, Croydon’s deputy chief executive responsible for procurement.

Soon after Olympic South won its Croydon tender, Lawrence went to work for the cab firm, according to the Eye on a £100,000 salary plus company Merc.

After reading the magazine’s reports, Croydon councillors last year ordered an inquiry into the matter. An internal council investigation found no evidence of fraud, although even Croydon’s then CEO Jon Rouse was forced to admit that the inquiry “raised concerns with the evaluation process”.

A District Auditor investigation found “significant weaknesses” in the tendering process, forcing the council to re-tender all 13 of their transport contracts. As a consequence, Olympic South was left with a minor contract to cover some of the cab routes that were tendered.

Even in 2011, the District Auditor investigation found that council officers had failed to check whether a contractor had appropriate insurance cover. Other high priority issues raised included interim payments made to contractors and variations of a contract made by officers who did not have delegated authority.

In the aftermath of the audit investigation at Croydon Council, Peter Storey, a procurement manager, left his council job after a period of suspension.

But Croydon’s choice of school bus company was no better come the re-tendering in 2011: they managed to appoint a firm, London Hire Services, that had existed for less than six months and which lacked licences for four of its seven vehicles.

Belinski refused to answer any questions about whether, following this week’s ruling by the Traffic Commissioner, his company, Olympic South, will still be able to fulfil its remaining contractual obligations with Croydon Council.

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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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