A LOCAL authority which sparked incredulity by insisting it had scant information about how it spent a £120,000 government grant it was given just four years ago has apologised after unearthing the details.

The Department for Transport Total Transport grant documents have been discovered at North Yorkshire County Council’s headquarters at County Hall in Northallerton, six months after the authority started facing questions from community transport campaigners over the scheme.

The transport campaigners have been calling on the council to use its resources to explore alternatives to traditional buses, which they say are not always what is wanted in rural areas.

The council was awarded the funding in 2015 to establish a joint team involving North Yorkshire County Council Officers and Vale of York Clinical Commissioning Group Staff to look at elements of patient transport provided by Yorkshire Ambulance Trust and develop alternatives. After the scheme, it emerged the initiative had led to £200,000 of public money being saved, so the transport campaigners asked how the efficiencies had been achieved.

In a Freedom of Information request (FoI) to the council in June they asked whether the lessons had been used to consider integrating non-emergency patient transport services with other forms of public passenger transport in North Yorkshire.

Responding to the FoI, the council stated it held no further information about the initiative, and after receiving several complaints, stated it recognised “duties when it comes to requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act and endeavour at all times to provide answers in an open and honest way”.

In October, campaigner and former transport firm managing director Barry Connor told the council’s transport scrutiny committee it was “inconceivable” did not have records of how the Total Transport pilot was dealt with and launched a complaint with the Information Commissioner.

In an email to Mr Connor last week, council officers said they had “discovered” the documents while searching for information following him outlining his concerns to the authority’s scrutiny committee.

Officers told Mr Connor: “We believe that this document should have been disclosed to you as part of FoI [request] as it gives information in relation to the £200,000. Please accept our sincere apologies for its omission at the time we sent you the other information relating to this request.”

After receiving a copy of the report, Mr Connor said despite the authority giving the Department for Transport reassurances it would examine how the scheme could be used elsewhere there were no indications the authority did anything more on the issues, apart from redirect 50 per cent of the grant to fund community transport. 

Mr Connor said: “So we have gone from ‘no information’ to a report to the DfT, but only after three complaints about how they handled the original FoI request.

“So much for ‘We recognise our duties when it comes to requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act and endeavour at all times to provide answers in an open and honest way’.”