Bus firm fights licence axe bid

A Blackpool bus firm is pressing ahead with plans to expand services despite being told its operating licence will be revoked.

Wednesday, 30th November 2016, 9:05 am
Updated Tuesday, 6th December 2016, 4:37 pm
Catch22 has been told its operating license will be revoked in January

Catch22bus has been told it must stop operations on January 18 following the outcome of a public inquiry.

Boss Philip Higgs has also been disqualified from holding an Operators’ licence for 12 months for his involvement in an online slur against the North West’s traffic commissioner.

No issues were highlighted with the firm’s safety record, finances or operations.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

However, there was found to be a breakdown in trust between the firm and regulators following a series of events in which a private investigator was hired to snoop on senior traffic commissioner Beverley Bell.

It was revealed that Mr Higgs was issued with an harassment information notice by Lancashire Police earlier this year after a video featuring Mrs Bell was posted on YouTube.

South East and Metropolitan Area Deputy Traffic Commissioner John Baker found such actions enough to revoke the firm’s licence.

He said: “There is a serious question mark over whether Mr Higgs can be trusted. His past behaviour and in particular the conduct towards Mrs Bell shows animosity, resentment and a tendency to ‘take the law into his own hands’ all of which draw into question the likelihood of him adhering to operating requirements set by Traffic Commissioners.”

He continued: “This was a covert, serious invasion of privacy perpetrated against the Senior Traffic Commissioner which resulted in a significant level of distress. The action was taken in the context of an industry that relies on trust between operators and the regulators and this adds to the seriousness.

“All of these factors coupled with my finding on likely future compliance lead to the conclusion that loss of repute is proportionate and justified.”

Mr Baker said that as Mr Higgs was the sole shareholder and director of Catch22, his loss of repute reflected on the company as a whole.

Catch22, which employs 25 people and operates a network of services in Blackpool and Wyre, has said it will appeal the decision and has vowed to continue running services while the legal process continues.

The firm will, next month, launch new Sunday services to Over Wyre - the first to run since County Hall subsidies were axed in April.

Dave Hughes, Service Operations Director, said: “We would like to assure our valued customers that an appeal against the decision has been lodged and that all of our services will continue to operate as normal, throughout what is now becoming a long and drawn out legal process.

“We are looking forward to the launch of our extended Sunday service 24 on December 11, which will re-establish a Sunday and Bank Holiday link between Knott End, Over Wyre, Poulton and Cleveleys. “We also launch our extended service 23 on Monday December 12, providing residents in the Carleton area with a direct link to Cleveleys and Victoria Hospital.

“Our three, newly acquired Eco-friendly Optare Versa buses will also enter service at this time. Therefore, it’s business as usual at Catch22.”