The views expressed in this column may not be those of the National Taxi Association
For many reasons 2019 was a horrible year for myself, I attended six funerals, one of which was my mothers, so despite the impending shadow of Brexit looming, 2020 couldn’t get any worse could it?
How wrong was I. Going back on my facebook timeline, on the 25th January 2020 I actually posted “I may have the coronavirus ffs as if my week couldn’t get any worse”.
At the beginning of March business was actually decent, despite the horrific pictures coming out of Italy with ICU’s being overwhelmed by the sick. The UK continued as normal, we allowed the Cheltenham festival to go ahead and gamblers left to country for the annual pilgrimage to Benidorm. Liverpool even played Athletico Madrid, despite the virus being widespread in Spain.
There was an obvious sense something was coming, like the period of war being declared in September 1939 and the action actually beginning, a period known as ‘phoney war’. The major difference being the obvious ‘bog roll’ fiasco which saw shelves bereft of toilet paper because in the true blitz spirit nothing comes between the British and regular morning ablutions complete with three ply. On a side note, I find it fascinating that our country still fetishize a war that ended 75 years ago, when for a short period of time we stood alone (alongside Canada, Australia, New Zealand and a rather large empire) – yet when push comes to shove, we’ll willingly push someone’s granny under a bus for a pack of Andrex.
It was apparent when the Prime Minister announced the first lockdown in March 2020 that our trades would be directly affected, and affected we were, the day after the announcement non essential shops were closed, people stopped travelling and custom virtually ceased.
For many reasons our government haven’t performed well (if at all) during the pandemic, the mixed messaging, being too slow to lockdown and too quick to reopen, exams being missed and approaching 100,000 dead all bear testament to that.
As I write this I’m looking at some figures. Per 100,000 men aged 20-64, 31 died in the population as a whole compared with 101 taxi drivers.
In terms of us, I suppose we have had the SEISS scheme for those lucky enough to qualify and of course the government loan scheme which is available through your bank, again, for those lucky enough to qualify.
To the credit (no pun intended) of many finance houses, they appreciated the position of those of us who had car repayments to make, giving a payment holiday or suchlike.
Are any of you old enough to remember the children’s TV show ‘Trumpton?’, no, it wasn’t based around the goings on in the Whitehouse Washington DC, it was based on a seemingly understaffed town hall with a phone line direct to the seemingly overstaffed fire brigade.
Imagine for one moment that we gave Trumpton town council a few million quid, the overzealous Mayor of Trumpton consults with Mr Troop (the town clerk) and they agree that those b*stards from Camberwick Green have been seeking out links with the Cali cartel in Columbia, again. This time the Trumpton Mayor has millions in the bank and sets about with a new Drug Enforcement Agency (Trumpton division) sited alongside Trumpton’s famous fire brigade.
It sounds a bit farfetched (because it is), but it’s reasonably obvious when you think about it ‘Windy ‘Pablo’ Miller’ has gone from the illegal sale of Cider to international cocaine smuggling, therefore the Trumpton Mayor is justified.
Given the above, I think this is how local authorities generally work, give them the money and they will spend it.
On a local level some local authorities were, on the face of it, initially generous, allowing licensees to pay for licenses over an extended period, some even reducing fees (which arguably was the correct thing to do, as many local authorities had staff working from home, thus the service to licensees was, and remains, virtually non-existent).
It is reasonably obvious during this time local authorities should suspend things like vehicle age policies and anything that will lead to licensee’s spending money unnecessarily for a business that quite simply isn’t there.
If you had a school contract some local authorities paid retainers to companies who would after all be needed when the pandemic was over. Such generosity wasn’t extended by some operators, who basically refused to pass on this money to the drivers who carried out the work for them. I sincerely hope there is a day of reckoning when we get through this.
This day of reckoning should involve those train companies, who despite government subsidy and bailout, still insisted (and insist) that taxi drivers pay for permits for their taxis to stand at deserted railway stations. This is a scandal out of all proportion.
Whilst I’ll be the first to point to the many things the government have done badly, I mean getting into an argument with Marcus Rashford over free school meals for children was a particularly silly thing to do, one thing they appear to have done, is to provide money to local councils to support local businesses.
One of the pivotal policies of the NTA has been locals are best placed to decide, taxis in being a local business should have policies that reflect their locality. Therefore, as you would imagine, this government support to be distributed by those that are directly responsible for licensing us should be a ‘mana from heaven’, shouldn’t it?
Fair enough, just because I barely trust them with emptying my bins doesn’t mean they’ll screw up on this does it? Local authorities being ‘on the ground’ and very local to us with a massive bag of cash they would surely consider the licensees they license wouldn’t they?
Before you start throwing the rotting fish from our ports at your licensing department (if you can find them), this isn’t something concerning our beloved licensing departments, it’s a different department.
The answer to the above lays on PHTM’s facebook page (they can thank me for the plug later). Let’s just say some local authorities are better than others, and some appear to be tighter than a ducks backside.
Carlisle and Birmingham both have a scheme called the Additional Restrictions Grant (ARG) to which taxi and private hire both qualify, payments have so far been made for November 2020 & January / February 2021.
The relatively simple question when applying for the grant in Carlisle was basically ‘How has your business been affected by the pandemic’, the obvious answer being ‘There’s a global pandemic, people have been told to stay indoors, they aren’t using taxis because you’ve closed the shops and pubs and told them to avoid travel’. Obvious really eh?
Other local authorities have been equally as considerate, if not a little slower in responding, setting up schemes where taxi and private hire both qualify.
Some have been truly awful; some have refused to consider grants to taxi drivers on the basis that they don’t qualify as they don’t pay business rates. Another has refused on the basis that taxi drivers have been able to claim on the SEISS. I even heard one justify a particularly low payment (the sum of £50) on the same basis, the SEISS scheme. It didn’t seemingly occur to this particular council that the SEISS scheme was for those essential things, like food.
You’d actually believe they were giving their own money away, a case of ‘you got that so you don’t get this’.
So what exactly are those local authorities that are giving their taxi and private hire drivers either nothing or paltry amounts saying about their licensees, are they saying that they don’t value them as much as other local authorities do? They’re worth less?
Wirral Council have a webpage dedicated to what they call a Covid 19 Local restrictions Support Grant, when you log onto it you are asked the first yes or no question which goes thus;
“Has your business been required to close due to national and/or local restrictions?”
The honest answer is “no”, at which point you are told “unfortunately your business doesn’t qualify for this scheme”.
In fact Wirral council haven’t seemingly paid a single penny towards their licensed drivers, the few pounds drivers did qualify for was granted via the Liverpool city region.
The BBC reported back in August of Millions for small business ‘sitting in local authority bank accounts’ , actually citing Wirral council as holding £14.7 million unspent at the end of July 2020, the taxi trade did not qualify for this money as it doesn’t pay business rates.
Don’t think I’m just picking on Wirral here, from what I’ve seen just about every local authority across Merseyside and indeed Greater Manchester have been exactly the same.
I refer back to the 101 deaths per 100,000 taxi drivers because of covid; I refer to local authorities receiving government money and not considering taxi and private hire drivers worthy of grants (or granting a paltry amount). At the end of this pandemic it will be interesting to see the death statistics for licensed drivers across each local authority area, I’d wager those areas where cab drivers have been given little other option but to work have a higher pro rata death rate than those areas where drivers can work fewer hours.
It’s interesting to note that since PHTM began to compile a list of local authorities that previously considered taxi and private hire drivers illegible for grants, that a few seem to have changed their minds.
Until next month (if they’ll have me back), stay safe.