Warrington’s Own Buses formally warned over MoT failings

WARRINGTON’S Own Buses has been issued with a formal warning over failings which saw buses in operation without a valid MoT test.

The firm’s former transport manager Steven Stringer has also been disqualified from holding such a position for his role in the ‘inexcusable’ situation.

This came after it arose that that 28 of the company’s bus fleet had been operated after their MoT tests had expired.

The situation was scrutinised at a public inquiry held last month, with a report now published by Gerallt Evans, traffic commissioner for the north west of England.

The hearing heard that Stringer was transport manager for Warrington’s Own Buses from 2015 until his resignation in November last year.

Warrington’s Own Buses was represented by managing director Ben Wakerley and chair of the board of directors Cllr Catherine Mitchell, while Stringer stated he would not be attending.

The traffic commissioner heard how that Stringer was responsible for the company’s engineering function, including the submission of vehicles for annual test.

Warrington’s Own Buses made assurances that it had a ‘robust’ system in place prior to the Covid pandemic to monitor and audit vehicle maintenance and the work of Stringer.

However, Covid restrictions meant that the supervisory system had to be modified, with the firm conceding it became much more reliant on individuals such as Stringer passing on relevant information.

The inquiry heard that the company had ‘complete faith’ in Stringer as a long-standing employee with an ‘established a reputation as being reliable and trustworthy’.

Warrington’s Own Buses told the inquiry it considers Stringer had been ‘misleading senior management about the annual test position and other vehicle maintenance matters’.

The inquiry heard that 28 of the Warrington’s Buses fleet had been operated after their MoT tests had expired

The inquiry heard that 28 of the Warrington’s Buses fleet had been operated after their MoT tests had expired

It stressed that had it not been for the revised Covid working practices, internal audits would have swiftly identified the problem with the annual tests.

The firm presented evidence of ‘swift steps’ taken to correct and check matters in November 2021 after the scale of the issue became clear, with all vehicles that did not have a test immediately taken off road until they could be tested, with all passing.

The inquiry report states, in a section entitled ‘findings of fact’, that 28 of Warrington’s Own Buses were allowed to be operated when their annual test had expired, with most having been operating for a month or two without a test.

It adds that that the ‘primary responsibility for this situation must rest with Stringer’.

“I find that not only did Stringer fail to ensure the vehicles were submitted for annual test as required, but it is also clear from the evidence that I have seen that he actively and dishonestly sought to conceal the true position on testing from his senior managers for several months,” the report goes on to say.

“The issue with annual testing persisted for several months. It affected 28 vehicles which represents over a quarter of the operator’s current fleet.

“It is not a situation that should have been allowed to arise in a competently run business, especially one of this size.”

On Warrington’s Own Buses, the report says: “I am satisfied there is now effective management control and appropriate systems and procedures in place to prevent operator licence failings, including those in relation to annual test.

“Additionally, I have taken account of the fact that this issue arose during the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic.

“I give the operator credit for its swift notification to my office of the issues once identified and the rapid action taken to rectify matters.

“I consider it would be inappropriate to impose a suspension or limit the current number of vehicles being operated as that would cause disproportionate disruption to the members of the public who rely on the operator’s services.”

However, the traffic commissioner did record a formal warning on the operator licence.

The inquiry heard that 28 of the Warrington’s Buses fleet had been operated after their MoT tests had expired

The inquiry heard that 28 of the Warrington’s Buses fleet had been operated after their MoT tests had expired

On Stringer, the report states that he ‘failed in his responsibilities as transport manger to ensure that the operator’s vehicles were kept in a fit and roadworthy condition and subjected to properly recorded periodic inspections and annually tested as required’

It concludes: “For a transport manger to allow 28 passenger carrying vehicles to be operated without a valid MoT is inexcusable.

“I also find that this failure is aggravated by the reassurances about compliance that Stringer provided to the operator’s senior leadership over several months.

“I am satisfied those reassurances were false and Stringer knew fully well he was misleading the operator. His actions have properly been described by his former employer as deceitful.”

The traffic commissioner found that Stringer’s ‘good repute is lost’ and ordered his disqualification from acting as a transport manager for two years.

Following the inquiry, Ben Wakerley said: “We accept the outcome of this inquiry.

“The individual in question, who previously was trusted and highly respected across the industry, was suspended immediately and subsequently left our employment.

“We have since put in place additional measures to increase the scrutiny of our engineering processes to ensure that misreporting does not and cannot happen again in future, with this work recognised in the inquiry.”

Moreover, a spokesman for Warrington Borough Council said: “We are pleased that the inquiry has concluded, and we acknowledge that Warrington’s Own Buses acted promptly in response to the issue.

“We have faith in the company and its management, and we are assured that improved control measures and procedures have been put in place.

“We remain confident that the company can continue to provide a valuable service for our residents, particularly looking forward to Warrington’s new all electric bus fleet – ZEBRA – and Bus Service Improvement Plan, which will help to reduce fares and increase reliability of services.”

Leave a Comment