Marital breakdown curtails O-licence

Kevin Rooney

Somerset-based Blackgate has had its O-licence curtailed after compliance standards slipped following the separation of its married directors.

In a written decision following a public inquiry (PI) in Bristol, traffic commissioner (TC) for the west of England Kevin Rooney (pictured) curtailed the company’s standard national licence from five to three vehicles from 6 August until 31 August and from then on to four vehicles indefinitely.

The Highbridge-based newspaper haulage specialist, with directors Terry West and Julie West, was granted a licence in August 2002 for five vehicles and one trailer. In January 2018, DVSA traffic examiner Thomas Coghlan stopped one of the company’s vehicles at Tormarton, near junction 18 of the M4.

The vehicle was found to be 10.8% overloaded on the front axle and the driver did not have a Driver CPC certificate. An investigation by DVSA traffic examiner Amy Comer identified significant and serious recent abuses of drivers’ hours and tachograph rules.

One driver had formed the habit of pulling the card to get home on a Friday evening without taking a further 45-minute rest, over a period of months. Another driver with serious ongoing personal issues had pulled the card habitually so that he could get home to his family, which included periods of driving of up to nearly seven hours without a break.

The investigation also found that Julie, who became transport manager in 2007, was no longer in the business having separated from her husband Terry in early 2017. She had kept in touch with the firm, but less so after moving out of the marital home, and had been unaware of the lack of compliance management.

Transport consultant Barry Hood of Protect Solutions, who conducted an audit into Blackgate, had subsequently worked closely with Julie, and proper policies and procedures were now in place. Since the January stop, former Blackgate operations manager Robert Oake had also returned to assist Julie and the working relationship between the Wests had improved.

Downloads are now weekly, a follow-up audit has been booked for August and Terry has booked on to an O-licence training course next month. Rooney said: “The offending that the operator permitted to happen was serious. There were no proper systems to prevent it. The transport manager was absent for almost a year.”

However the TC described it as an “unusual case” in which Blackgate did not have a long history of non-compliant behaviour and had a transport manager who had demonstrated real commitment to getting things right.

The TC added: “The lack of a transport manager came about because of personal circumstances rather than any attempt at commercial gain. The efforts made for the PI and the determination shown by Julie suggest that the operator could, with support, run a compliant operation.”

As part of an undertaking, Blackgate must have an annual audit covering maintenance, driver licensing, drivers’ hours and working time and the role of the transport manager by a competent independent person, with the first one due by 31 December. The company can apply for the curtailment to be removed in January 2019.