MUNRO’S of Jedburgh says services will not be affected, despite the bus company losing its licence.
The company has been stripped of its authority to operate following a Traffic Commission for Scotland public inquiry last year.
And company director Ewan Farish was disqualified from holding an operator licence for two years and banned from acting as a transport manager for two years by deputy traffic commissioner for Scotland Richard McFarlane last month.
But the Jedburgh company, which has school and other contracts with Scottish Borders Council, has lodged an appeal against the decision which Mr Farish describes as “a little harsh”.
And Munro’s have applied for a new licence which it hopes will be granted before the loss of its old licence comes into effect at the end of March.
Mr McFarlane judged Munro’s had broken guidelines by loaning vehicle discs to a Dalkeith bus company in 2011.
The authorities were alerted in October 2011 after two Edinburgh Transport Group (ETG) buses were spotted at a Dalkeith school with Munro’s of Jedburgh public service vehicle operator licence discs.
Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) investigated and the public inquiry took place in August and October last year.
The inquiry heard ETG, also known as Jenkins Travel, had won more school contracts and applied for extra operator licences to cover them. But the licences had not arrived in time for the start of the new school term so ETG had borrowed three operator licence discs from Munro’s between August and November 2011, though Jenkins Travel director John Jenkins’s explanation was that Munro’s had hired the vehicles from Jenkins Travel. The inquiry also heard the two companies’ directors had not known each other before the deal.
In his findings, Mr McFarlane said: “It is accepted that the use made of the Munro discs by Jenkins Travel was not as per the rules and regulations.
“The lending of the three discs... is a very serious matter. Discs are not transferable. They are not a form of commercial currency. The lending of discs unsettles the commercial playing field for all licensed operators.
“I find it extraordinary that two commercial ventures appear to have struck an arrangement without reference to finance. The parties were not known to each other and yet they assured me that there was a relationship of trust between them. It does not make any sense to me as to why Munros became involved at all. I am in no doubt that... Munro’s did not “hire” any vehicles from Jenkins Travel.”
And he ruled the hire invoices which Michael Jenkins of Jenkins Travel produced when being interviewed by VOSA in November 2011 were false.
In revoking Munro’s licence, Mr McFarlane said: “The conduct is so serious... it strikes right at the heart of good repute. It shatters the relationship of trust between the Traffic Commissioner and licence holder. I cannot be satisfied that Munro’s of Jedburgh Ltd is likely to be a compliant operator in the future with the consequence that it does require to be put out of business.”
Mr Farish, who has over 40 years experience in the bus industry, told TheSouthern yesterday: “We didn’t think we were doing anything wrong. I have been disqualified as transport manager: that in itself is not devastating for the company, though personally it is.
“I believed what I was doing was okay, but technically it wasn’t and I am responsible for that. Ignorance of the law is no excuse legally.
“I think the decision was a little harsh as far as the company is concerned.
“We have lodged an appeal but that could take up to a year which is why we have applied for another licence.
“As far as the bus services are concerned there will be no change. If for any reason there is a problem – that for some reason we are not granted the licence or the appeal is not allowed – SBC will certainly ensure there is no disruption to service, though obviously we are extremely hopeful it will be our service.
“We have had discussions with SBC and they are in support of us obtaining a new licence.”
SBC’s executive member for transport, Councillor Gordon Edgar said: “The council is looking to Munro’s to keep the service in place. What they did was a silly mistake and Mr Farish admits that. It shouldn’t have happened. You can’t operate another pub if you’ve got a pub licence, you can’t take a road licence off one car and put it in another car, it was just silly but that’s what happened and we accept that.
“Hopefully they have learned their lesson and obviously it won’t happen again, and we are looking forward to the other business partner getting a new licence.
“We think Munro’s will be given a new operator’s licence but we are putting a contingency plan in place if they are not.”
Munro’s was founded in the mid-1960s by hire-car operator Jimmy Munro and sold to former First Group area managers, Ewan Farish and Donald Cameron in 1998. During 2000-2010, the company had 40 vehicles and employed more than 60 drivers servicing schools, rural areas, town and runs to Edinburgh contracts as well as private hires.
In 2010 Munro’s was fined £3,000 and had the number of vehicles on its operator’s licence reduced from 40 to 32 after VOSA officers found buses not running on time and described 26 per cent of journeys as “unsatisfactory”.