Rugby club’s Transport Manager banned for 12 months

The ban comes after Plymouth Albion Rugby Club’s licence was used under a contract with another operator, whose licence had been revoked

The Transport Manager (TM) and one of six Directors of Plymouth Albion Rugby Club, Max Venables, has been banned from acting as a TM for 12 months and until he has passed a TM refresher course after the club’s threevehicle international licence was used to carry passengers under a contract with Dealtop (Plymouth), whose licence had been revoked.

Traffic Commissioner (TC) Kevin Rooney also imposed a condition on the club’s licence that the authorised vehicle shall not be used other than for the transport of players and associated staff of Plymouth Albion Rugby Club (2016). He gave the club a period of grace of two months in which to obtain a new TM, otherwise its licence would be revoked.

A licence held by Dealtop was revoked on financial grounds in 2018. A second licence was held until that was revoked for various shortcomings, and Director Robert Risk was disqualified from holding or obtaining an O-Licence for two years in February 2020.

Evidence was given by Traffic Enforcement Manager Andrew Ball that he visited the club’s operating centre to conduct an investigation. The outcome was highly unsatisfactory, with many shortcomings. Of particular concern was a finding that the club was engaged in the transport of contingent labour from the Plymouth district to the dockyard. The club had received a contract from Dealtop, and one of the drivers was Robert Risk. The drivers used were supplied by Dealtop and were referred to as “self employed.”

The operation was a Dealtop contract apparently subcontracted to the club, but without any supporting documentation, and the vehicle continued to be driven by Dealtop’s drivers. There were many further shortcomings identified, such as operating from an unauthorised operating centre.

The TC was told that 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, they had been told otherwise and applied for the licence. Given the team’s location in south Devon, they travelled more than other clubs. There was an opportunity to make money from the team bus. There had been a historic relationship with Dealtop for drivers.

When Mr Venables heard that Dealtop had lost its licence, he had spoken with it about potential opportunities. The club’s core business had been heavily hit by COVID-19 – the last away match at the time being March 2020. The operation moving Babcock workers started around July 2020. It had agreed to buy the double-deckers but not pay up front; it was deducted from what it was paid for the job. Robert Risk drove the buses which still belonged to Dealtop, and Dealtop maintained them.

The main requirement was to keep operating the team coach. 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 licence 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 TM. It could find another TM. Mr Venables had believed that the revocation of Dealtop was purely down to financial standing.

The TC said that it was difficult to resist a finding that the club provided a front for the continuing operation – if on a limited basis – of Dealtop. He found that Max Venables and the club facilitated the ongoing operation of an operator he had 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 he had disqualified Robert Risk from operating for two years but operate he did, under the cloak of Plymouth Albion. There were many other shortcomings as set out in the report from Mr Ball. They include the operating from an unauthorised operating centre, the failure to properly manage the Dealtop drivers and the lack of regular driver licence checking.

This was an unusual operation in that the main reason for the operation of a PSV was to reduce the operating costs of the rugby club.

The TC fully accepted that COVID-19 had impacted it on a major scale although the club had achieved income through facilities hire.

Were this a more mainstream commercial operator, he would have had no hesitation in putting it out of business, but it was not. It had a wider community value, and he respected that. He also believed that allowed him, just, to answer in the affirmative the key question whether he could trust this operator to be compliant in the future.