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Ruskin Private Hire boss: 'I had no problems until I did business with Croydon Council'

Earlier this year Ruskin Private Hire - London's biggest provider of accessible transport - went out of business. Owner Roger Lynch speaks publicly for the first time, telling the Advertiser he blames the council for the collapse of his company.

INSPIRED by his time in a wheelchair, Roderick 'Roger' Lynch set up an accessible transport company which helped thousands of special needs children and vulnerable adults across London.

In February, that business – Ruskin Private Hire – went into administration following a bitter dispute with Croydon Council. Now Mr Lynch, 49, is being pursued through the courts by his bank, which wants £1.2 million and is trying to seize his home.

This week, the self-made millionaire spoke for the first time about the collapse of his company and who he deems responsible.

"There was absolutely nothing wrong with my business before I became involved with Croydon Council," he said.

"They are the major cause of what happened. We were one of the biggest special needs providers in the UK with a turnover of £13 million.

"We were profitable and provided a quality service for 28 boroughs. Unfortunately, one of them brought us down."

Before the Southwark-based company went into administration, Ruskin had a high court claim against the council for £2.5 million.

Mr Lynch's case was based on an indemnity clause in its deal to take hundreds of Croydon children to and from school, which he believes entitled his company to compensation when the council terminated its original contract following a scandal in 2010.

When the council re-tendered, Ruskin lost the majority of its routes to other firms, meaning the investment it had made in a new depot, vehicles, staff and training had been wasted.

Mr Lynch says the council initially seemed willing to help. "They said they wanted to sort it out amicably, without lawyers or the press getting involved, so I stayed quiet and tried to negotiate behind the scenes," he said.

"After a few months of no progress we tried to set up a meeting with the council. When it finally happened, I arrived to find a high-powered lawyer. It was then clear the council was trying to wriggle out of its responsibilities."

Ruskin's bank, Aldermore, had grown increasingly concerned. Stuck with the liabilities of its original contract but little of its income, by last summer the award-winning company had four mortgage charges and five county court judgements against its name.

Last August, HMRC agreed to postpone a winding-up petition while Ruskin's dispute was resolved but, despite handing the council extensive evidence to support his claims, the authority steadfastly refused to compensate Mr Lynch. Frustrated with this lack of cooperation, Mr Lynch lodged a claim with the High Court.

In February, the bank's patience ran out and administrators FRP Advisory were sent in. Around 300 people lost their jobs when a deal to save the company fell through.

The council's position is that Mr Lynch's case has no merit and is instead an attempt to pass on the blame for his own business failings.

"This is not a fishing mission," the businessman replied. "The money we are claiming is actual money we spent on the contract that need not have been spent.

"If we get got the money we were owed by Croydon we would still be in business. We asked for an indemnity agreement in the contract, which they agreed to, because I knew what could happen if it went wrong and, by Christ, it went wrong.

"So I'm not coming forward to claim money I'm not entitled to. I've come forward to claim what is due."

As an asset of the company, Mr Lynch's £2.5 million claim passed to FRP Advisory.

However, his initial fears that the administrator would strike a quick deal have not been realised. In fact, it has met with a familiar response from the council, which has already spent in excess of £35,000 fighting the case.

Aldermore has instead turned to Mr Lynch to recover the £1.2 million it believes it is owed.

"They have come after me to seize my house and assets because Croydon has refused to enter into dialogue," he said.

"I've told the administrator it will have to wait until the council pays up in court, but it says Croydon is putting up obstacles. It's a worry.

"It hasn't got anything from Croydon so it is coming after me, but I'm going to fight it."

The case is next up in court at the end of July, a couple of days after the High Court claim, which has since been moved to Croydon County Court, is next due to be considered.

The collapse of Ruskin cost Mr Lynch personally around £11 million. While he deeply regrets becoming involved with the council, he remains proud of his company's record and that he refused to become involved in the shadier dealing he believes are rife in the industry.

"I don't give brown envelopes and I don't get involved in skulduggery," he said.

"All my work was won on merit. We worked with 28 London boroughs on merit. We won award after award.

"There was no way you could have a business that turned over £13 million and see this coming.

"But this is what can happen when you do business with a council that starves you out, administrators who think they can see a quick buck, and a bank who view the whole thing as an opportunity."

Aldemore told the Advertiser it was unable to comment on individual cases and FRP Advisory declined to comment due to the ongoing legal dispute. A spokesman said the council "cannot legally use public money to settle a claim it considers invalid". As to negotiations with the administrators, he added: "We have been entirely open with them and sought to explain clearly and careful why this claim really ought not to have been brought. We have also set out to them the evidence and detail which would be required to prove the validity of the claim."

Ruskin Private Hire boss: 'I had no problems until I did business with Croydon Council'

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