- EXCLUSIVE: Birmingham official worked in same office as school taxi contractor
- Boss Sarah Norman told rivals to get IDs there – and firm tried to ‘poach’ drivers
- Green Destinations’ deals and profits soared during this period from 2020-22
- READ MORE: £11M probe as firm charge £200 a day to drive pupil three miles
A senior official at now-bankrupt Birmingham City Council worked for two years in the same tiny church community centre as a school transport firm that it was his job to regulate, MailOnline can reveal.
The rundown West Bromwich office was also used by contractor Green Destinations Ltd (GDL), which saw its business with the authority balloon over that same two-year period, before finding itself at the centre of an £11million overcharging probe.
Jay Shimano, whose job it is to ensure school transport safety, and his boss at the council Sarah Norman, directed drivers at rival firms to collect their ID badges – without which they would be banned from driving children – from the address on Beeches Road.
On arrival, it was suggested to drivers that it might be more lucrative for them to work for GDL, conveniently based in the same building, competitors have claimed.
At least a dozen routes from small local cab firm Great Barr Cars were taken over by Green Destinations, who in most cases charged the council significantly more.
A senior official at now-bankrupt Birmingham City Council worked for two years in the same tiny church community centre on Beeches Road, West Bromwich (pictured) as a school transport firm that it was his job to regulate, MailOnline can reveal.
Jay Shimano (left), compliance manager at the Birmingham City Council’s children and young people’s travel service, worked out of the same offices as major school taxi contractor Green Destinations Ltd, owned by Jameel Malik (right)
Green Destinations has grown to be the most dominant school travel supplier in Birmingham since 2020. As of 2023, it charges approximately £17million to run about 460 of the council’s 1,300 routes, around a third more than in 2022, leaked data suggests (pictured: a minibus at their depot in Hockley, Birmingham)
A previous MailOnline investigation showed Green Destinations was charging Birmingham City Council more than £210 to ferry one child just three miles to school and back, journeys a Hackney Carriage would charge less than £20 for.
From 2019 to 2022, GDL’s profits soared from a modest £80,000-a-year profit to more than £1.6million – a 1,900 per cent increase in just three years.
Shimano, who was promoted from compliance officer to manager at the Labour-run council’s children and young people’s travel service, worked at the same office as the major contractor – which is not in Birmingham but neighbouring authority Sandwell – from 2020 until at least early last year, the council have admitted.
The seven-room building, where still rent a room GDL, is a convenient two-minute walk from the home of Green Destinations owner Jameel Malik, 45, and is believed to be near the home of self-employed council worker Shimano.
Documents seen by MailOnline show that GDL listed the community centre as their address with Sandwell Council.
Malik’s firm has grown to be the most dominant school travel supplier in Birmingham since 2020. As of 2023, it charges approximately £17million to run about 460 of the council’s 1,300 routes, around a third more than in 2022, leaked data suggests.
This data also suggests that the majority of the more than 300 new routes created in the 2022/23 year were handed to Green Destinations. These contracts are thought to be worth in excess of £5million.
Green Destinations, which was founded by Malik in 2013, recorded occasional losses and meagre profits of no more than a few thousands pounds until the end of the 2018/19 financial year, where they bagged £83,250, according to accounts published on Companies House.
In 2020, their business with Birmingham Council grew and profits shot up, more than doubling to £171,900.
Shimano and his boss at the council Sarah Norman (pictured), directed drivers at rival firms to collect their ID badges – without which they would be banned from driving children – from the address on Beeches Road
And a year later profits more than quadrupled to £769,060 as council worker Shimano worked alongside them. GDL’s latest accounts until April 2022 show a profit of a whopping £1,646,700.
This investigation lays bare the intimate relationship Green Destinations had with senior council staff in charge of school transport services, as the firm became the dominant contractor in the city.
If GDL’s pricing mirrored that competitors such as HATS, which works with Birmingham and dozens of other councils, analysis suggests the cost could be closer to £6million – an £11million difference.
A GDL employee (right) denied that Jay Shimano had ever worked with the firm when questioned by reporter Adam Dutton (left)
Green Destinations’ vehicle depot on Park Road in Hockley, Birmingham, which the firm recently updated as their registered office on Companies House
HATS chairman Henry Bilinski previously claimed that his firm was not offered a fair opportunity to tender for lucrative contracts given to GDL. He also said his company lost a significant chunk of business after a year, despite a pristine record.
Birmingham City Council said in July that all contracts were ‘tendered in accordance with the council’s procurement processes and in a legally compliant manner’.
Had some senior staff within the council been aware that Shimano was working at the offices of a major contractor, he would have been ‘sacked for gross misconduct by maintaining a conflict of interest prejudicial to the council’, sources claimed.
A reliable source with knowledge of the scandal told MailOnline: ‘It is an undeniable fact that GDL’s profits increased by an unnatural and inexplicable level between 2019 and 2021.
‘It is an undeniable fact that GDL almost exclusively won every non-standard contract – ones that fell out of annual reviews.
‘It is absolutely abnormal for a compliance officer to routinely work in a supplier’s office.’
The source asked: ‘How do you explain that that supplier whose office he was working in, suddenly became the most successful supplier when bidding for these contracts?’
As the council implemented a licence badge system for school transport drivers – without which drivers would be banned from the service – firms were told to send drivers to the collect the IDs from Shimano at the Beeches Road address.
The boss of local cab firm Great Barr Cars, which used to run around two dozen routes, told MailOnline that GDL frequently tried to ‘poach’ their drivers when collecting their ID badges at the Beeches Road office.
‘All drivers were requested to have an ID Card made and then Birmingham City Council decided to distribute those cards from Green Destinations’ office,’ he said.
‘The council said “come and send your drivers to this office” – it was another office in West Bromwich.
‘It was at that time GDL tried to poach our drivers. “What’s Great Barr offering you?” they would ask.
‘I put a complaint in with the council and they said “no we’re just renting an office” and they denied any wrongdoing.’
He accused the council of a ‘cover up’, saying staff told him that the office clash was ‘not deliberate’ and that there were no other offices available .
But a well-placed source has told MailOnline that Birmingham Council had multiple ‘satellite’ offices the compliance team could have worked from.
Henry Bilinski, the chairman of nationally-recognised school transport firm HATS (file photo), who work for Birmingham and other local authorities, previously claimed that their firm has not been offered a fair opportunity to tender for lucrative contracts given to GDL
Eye-watering home to school transport fares charged to Birmingham City Council by Green Destinations Ltd (figures have been rounded)
A minibus leaves the Green Destinations depot in Hockley on September 14
A banner outside the Green Destinations depot advertising PSV (public service vehicle) driver jobs with the school transport firm
The council admitted the team worked from the Beeches Road office ‘on a few occasions in 2020 and 2021’ for ‘training purposes and issuing licence badges’, adding the site had not used the site since early last year.
A spokesperson did not provide further information when asked to elaborate on the timings and the provided training.
They also said it would ‘unfair’ to name Shimano in this article as ‘we don’t use that office now or in the recent past’.
The Great Barr Cars boss added: ‘I had run ins with a lot of council officials as they wanted to do inspections, and go to our office to go through paperwork – but they were trying to force operators out.
‘Jay Shimano came down to our office and complained about us. He made me cover up the CCTV camera in our office – I had to stand on a moving swivel chair.’
Great Barr has since lost all of their school transport routes with Birmingham Council, mostly to Green Destinations which charges significantly higher rates, analysis of leaked council documents shows.
MailOnline has seen a late 2021 email from Shimano’s boss Sarah Norman, now head of travel support, saying Great Barr’s drivers needed to collect their council badges in person from Beeches Road Methodist Church – the site of the community centre – otherwise they would be banned from school transport routes.
Sources questioned why Norman allowed her direct report to repeatedly work from a major supplier’s office despite the clear major conflict of interest.
When questioned by reporter Adam Dutton at a vehicle depot in Park Road, Hockley, which GDL recently updated as their registered address on Companies House, an employee denied that Jay Shimano had ever worked with the firm.
He declined to comment, saying: ‘We don’t want to be answering questions that don’t relate to our work, we have a job to do.’
But the employee added: ‘If it was such a problem then Birmingham City Council will be taking it up with us anyway.
‘The newspapers hype things up and make problems for everybody. There’s 300 or 400 guys working for us.
‘There’s a lot of things that we do, like helping children get to school, but no one wants to report about that. They want to report about things that don’t really concern us.’
When the reporter tried to speak to Green Destinations boss Jameel Malik on a provided phone number, a man – who said he was not Malik – warned him to stay away from any of the firm’s offices before hanging up.
A man (left) asked a reporter to leave the church community enterprise centre on Beeches Road, West Bromwich when he went there to try and ask questions to GDL boss Jameel Malik
The sign outside the Beeches Road Community Enterprise Centre does not list Green Destinations as an occupant, but a similar sign inside says the firm use room seven
A Birmingham City Council spokesperson said: ‘Previously the city council’s Children and Young People’s Travel Service’s compliance team had rented a room on a few occasions in 2020 and 2021 at the Old Church Building, of the Beeches Road Community Enterprise Centre in West Bromwich, for training purposes and issuing licence badges.
‘The team has not used the site since early 2022 and is now based at a council office in Erdington.’
The council were also asked why Jay Shimano was working at the Green Destinations office and why drivers of rival firms were told to pick up their ID badges there by his boss Sarah Norman. It was also asked if Norman should have questioned Shimano’s place of work and why her direct report was permitted to work there.
MailOnline has also asked why rival cab firms’ complaints about being sent to GDL’s office to pick up the badges were dismissed.
Birmingham City Council were asked if the rise in contracts won by GDL was due to undue influence owing to Shimano’s close proximity to the school transport supplier.
The authority was also asked to comment on the claims that Shimano would have been sacked if certain senior council workers had known about his working arrangements.
Birmingham City Council has not responded to any of these questions.
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