Wigan Council spent more than £100,000 of taxpayers’ money on contracts with a taxi firm while it was illegally using a town centre building.
Shock figures obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show the town hall paid Crusader Taxis £115,236.60 while it was operating without permission from a Wallgate address opposite the railway station.
The money was paid between May 1 2016 and March 1 2017 for 22 home-to-school journeys, during which period the firm’s ex-boss Hossein Ghorbani was involved in a lengthy court process to get him to cease using the building.
Wigan Council has defended its handling of the issue and there is no evidence that the journeys were dispatched from the building in dispute, as Crusader Taxis also has an office just outside the town centre which it does have permission for.
However, Wigan’s black cab drivers said they are unhappy with the local authority, claiming it has not sent out a strong enough message to deter firms who do not play by the rules.
Representative Eddie Earley said: “It is a lot of money to go to a firm that has been in trouble with the council. It’s very disappointing. The money and the contracts could have been given to a firm that does follow the proper criteria.
“We had this problem for around 12 months with the firm and Mr Ghorbani just refused to do what he was told. We do not feel Wigan Council has done its job here and think there should have been real sanctions for these misdemeanours.”
But the authority said it would not have been able simply to strip Crusader of the home-to-school contracts as this would have created problems for vulnerable Wiganers using the service. The town hall also said it had followed the correct procedure and had been able to come to an agreement with Crusader’s new ownership after Mr Ghorbani’s association with the business came to an end.
Karl Battersby, council director for economy and environment, said: “Crusader Cabs went through the proper procurement process, and they were awarded a number of home to school contract routes.
“In terms of the breach of planning control at Wallgate, we used our planning powers to deal with what was a planning issue. This involved serving both a stop notice and an enforcement notice, also pursuing a successful prosecution in the magistrates court for failure to comply with the notices.
“When court action did not result in the cessation of the use we then used other powers to resolve the matter, which involved placing the company on notice and individually cancelling the home to school contracts on a phased basis to avoid disruption to our service users. The action we took was proportionate, and resulted in the use ceasing and the premises being vacated.
“We publicised our approach at the time. The contracts which were cancelled have not been reissued to Crusader, and they continue to operate a number of our home to school contracts, we have no issue with the service they provide.”
Mr Ghorbani was found guilty of breaching a stop notice and fined. Bolton Crown Court appeals failed to overturn the verdict and sentence.