Northumberland coach operator has fleet reduced

Howard Snaith coaches.
Howard Snaith coaches.

A Northumberland-based coach operator, whose staff were at the centre of a lengthy trial over false tachograph records, has had its fleet cut from 91 to 35 vehicles with immediate effect, following a public inquiry.

Howard James Snaith and Partners, who are the licence holders of Howard Snaith of Otterburn, were called to the hearing in Leeds, which was held earlier this week, by the Office of the Traffic Commissioner for the North of England.

As well as reducing the number of coaches, the Traffic Commissioner has attached a number of undertakings to the firm's licence. This includes drivers' hours and tachograph rules must be audited every six months by a suitably competent body. The first audit will be provided to the Office of the Traffic Commissioner no later than January 31, 2016. On top of this, the role of Alison Snaith - who pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice during the crown court trial earlier this year - has been limited to office administration and support, the duties of a general admin clerk, and driving.

The resignation of Howard James Snaith (Snr) as transport manager has been accepted and Howard Robert Snaith (Jnr) will take his place.

However, the Traffic Commissioner has said that an increase to 50 vehicles will be considered favourably if supported by the employment of an additional full-time experienced transport manager and accompanied by a fresh and positive audit of tachograph and drivers' hours systems.

Earlier this year, a number of drivers admitted offences of creating false tachograph records.

The Traffic Commissioner said that falsifying tachograph records 'hides potentially serious abuses of the drivers' hours rules' and that research shows that 'between one in five and one in six deaths on the extra-urban road network is caused by a driver who is asleep at the time'.

The Commissioner's decision states: 'A significant proportion of the drivers who were employed on long-distance, in-scope driving were implicated with, and convicted for, false records. It is especially concerning that two drivers on a double-manned journey both chose to make false records at the same time. Whilst the company’s position is that the journey was planned such that it could be undertaken legally, the fact remains that, when the drivers ran out of hours, rather than a relief driver being sent, or the drivers taking their rest, they chose to continue the journey and were paid for doing so.

'It was the evidence of Alison Snaith that she was in charge of all matters to do with drivers, tachographs and drivers’ pay. It is my finding that the nominated transport manager, Howard Snaith Snr, had no effective oversight.

'My concerns centre around the potential influence of Alison Snaith, who was in charge of the relevant aspects when the false records were made. I have considered revoking the licence in order that I may disqualify her but I find that disproportionate. I have been offered an undertaking that limits her role within the business.

'Howard Snaith Snr clearly allowed false records to be made on his watch. I understand he now accepts that he had not executed the full duties of a nominated transport manager. Mr Snaith Snr has positive attributes. The maintenance of the fleet is good. The business developed strongly and, notwithstanding the effect of the current proceedings, its financial standing was strong. He has tendered his resignation as transport manager'.

The Traffic Commissioner has stated that the evidence indicates that the business is now compliant and Howard Snaith Jnr spoke 'enthusiastically of the systems in place for detecting false records and described an example of how they had done so'.

However, the Traffic Commissioner adds: 'I do not believe that Howard Snaith Jr currently has the full breadth of experience and knowledge needed to run a 91-vehicle operation but he can develop that with mentoring and support.'

In the summer, Howard Snaith had all of its Northumberland County Council transport contracts terminated.