New broom ‘needs to keep on brushing rigourously’

Blaming maintenance problems on buses used on local authority school contracts aged 21-29-years-old, Malcolm Harris, a partner in Ross-on-Wye based H&H Motors, said margins were now so tight there was no profit to put aside to acquire new vehicles.

Roger Smith and Malcolm Harris, trading as H&H Motors, of Broadmeadow, Ashburton Industrial Estate, Ross-on-Wye, had been called before Traffic Commissioner (TC) Nick Denton, who cut the licence from 11 vehicles to 10.

In May 2016 TC Nick Jones ruled that Mr Harris had lost his repute as a Transport Manager (TM), and disqualified him from acting as one until he had passed a fresh CPC exam. He cut the firm’s licence from 16 to 11 vehicles because of maintenance problems, giving the firm six months grace to obtain a new TM (routeONE, Court Report, 8 June 2016).

Mr Harris said they had a contract with a private school, which paid very well, without the vandalism problems on the local authority work. They were handing in the local authority contracts and retendering for them at a better price. If they did not get the price they wanted, to enable them to get better vehicles they would “be out of the game”.

The intention was to form a limited company and let the younger generation take over; his son Thomas and Mr Smiths’ son-in-law Daniel Field who was now TM.

He wanted to stand back from the managerial role and the fitting side and just do some driving. They needed five vehicles for the private school contract and wanted two or three nicer vehicles for touring. They wanted to do a lot more holidays.

In Wales, vehicles older than 10 years cannot be operated on school contracts. Herefordshire had not moved to that rule in and the firm was really not making any money.

The TC commented that it was to be deplored that there was a system where local authorities wanted the lowest price but roadworthy vehicles. He was concerned that a month after the last Public Inquiry (PI) there was an ‘S’-marked prohibition for three insecure seats, an insecure parcel rack, floor detached from the body and an excessively worn joint in the prop shaft. There were also further prohibitions at the Vehicle Examiner’s visit in October.

For the firm, James Backhouse said that they needed to sharply move into the 21st century after operating in the same way for 30 years. The Vehicle Examiner (VE) had been very positive about the firm’s attitude and response.

The new TM had a massive impact and there had been a change of culture. It was the older, tired, vehicles that were attracting the prohibitions and there would be a significant change in the fleet profile in the next 12 months.

Cutting the licence to 10 vehicles, the TC said that he had considered cutting it to eight, but if he forced the firm out of the bottom end of the market someone worse might come along.

He recognised that the age of the vehicles and considerable vandalism on the school buses were contributory factors and that there had been improvements since the last PI and the VE’s visit. “The new broom needs to keep on brushing rigorously,” he added.