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First Cymru repays Swansea Council after over-claiming £30.8k

FIRST Cymru has taken action after over-claiming for concessionary bus journeys in Swansea.

The over-claiming by the bus operator was approximately £24,200 in 2018-19 and £6,600 in 2019-20 – money it has since repaid to Swansea Council.

Councils reimburse bus operators for journeys taken by certain eligible passengers and get most of this money back from the Welsh Government.

A report before the council’s audit committee explained that concessionary journeys on First Cymru buses which started from Swansea University’s Bay Campus site were billed to Swansea when they should have been billed to Neath Port Talbot Council because the campus is within the latter’s boundary.

There were also some instances of fare stages with the same name being allocated to the wrong local authority area.

The report said the First Cymru employee calculating the claims wasn’t from South Wales.

Speaking at the committee meeting, Cath Swan, the council’s integrated transport unit manager, said: “There was some confusion.”

Asked by Cllr Jeff Jones if double-claiming or fraud could have been happening, Ms. Swain replied: “No.”

Cllr Jones also asked if there was a chance that First Cymru might have submitted claims for the Bay Campus journeys to Neath Port Talbot Council as well as Swansea.

Barrie Gilbert, the council’s passenger transport team leader, said the authority worked very closely with neighbouring authorities on this cross-boundary issue.

He and Ms Swain said additional details were being submitted by the bus operator when it submitted monthly claims – now via its own auditor – for reimbursement.

Mr. Gilbert said: “I look to see if those services are cross-boundary.”

The discrepancies were picked up by the council during an audit last summer.

The report before the committee also said that First Cymru had spotted last year that students’ tickets were incorrectly being classed as concessionary fares. At the time of last summer’s audit, a credit note had not been issued for the amounts over-claimed.

Ms. Swain said: “Hopefully this level of mistakes won’t happen again.”

The council’s budget for concessionary fares is around £7.5 million per year, just over 80% of which it gets back from the Welsh Government.

Cllr Peter Black wanted to know if the First Cymru employee outside of South Wales who had been submitting the claims was based in Swansea now.

“Really we have to be able to trust the system,” he said.

A spokesman for the bus operator said after the meeting: “First has been working pro-actively with Swansea Council on the implementation of an agreed action plan, which we are confident will rectify the issues that the audit highlighted.

“We note that the council also recognises that First has sought the support of its auditors to help improve underlying processes. We continue to work with the council to ensure the improvements deliver the desired outcome.”


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