Taxi drivers have reacted with anger – claiming around 500 people use the site every week and that it forms a crucial part of their daily routine.
An islamic prayer room at Manchester Airport which was damaged in a suspected arson attack has been shut – for ‘health and safety’ reasons. The cabin was used by taxi drivers and airport staff for worship but was closed suddenly by airport bosses earlier this week.
Two ceremonial garments inside the room were deliberately set ablaze on September 11 last year – the ninth anniversary of the attacks on New York’s Twin Towers.
Now the centre, on the airport’s taxi feeder park in Ringway Road, has been axed permanently – because chiefs say the building is dangerous and would cost too much to repair. But taxi drivers have reacted with anger – claiming around 500 people use the site every week and that it forms a crucial part of their daily routine.
One driver, a member of the Manchester Airport Taxi Drivers’ Association who are National Taxi Association members, said: “Everyone is furious that we were not consulted. We went to use it as normal and found it was locked up with a sign on the door saying it had been closed.
“Many Muslims go there five times a day to pray – we’ve used it for about a decade and are disgusted that it has shut without warning. We were all very upset when it was set on fire on September 11 and this feels like another kick in the teeth.”
The site is separate from the five prayer rooms in the airport terminals, which are part of the airport’s multi-faith chaplaincy.
Airport bosses say the cabin is unsafe and have told the drivers that they can now use their other prayer rooms.
Detectives said they were uncertain whether the blaze on September 11 last year was ‘religiously or racially motivated’.
An airport spokesman said: “Having had an independent health and safety assessment conducted, we were informed that the building had reached the end of its serviceable life and was beyond repair. We continue to provide other prayer rooms that are easily accessible.”
THREE Coventry councillors are facing an investigation into allegations they broke rules after charging firms for advice on how to gain council licences.
The Telegraph has learned city council lawyers are quizzing Conservative councillors Gary Ridley, Andrew Williams and David Smith about their licensing consultancy firm ProLicensing.
A disciplinary committee could now launch a full investigation.
Two of them – Coun Smith and Coun Williams – sit on the council’s licensing committee, which decides on applications for licences from firms including shops, pubs and clubs, and taxi firms.
Coventry-based ProLicensing charges firms fees of at least £350 for advice on applying to councils for licences.
Coun Williams (Bablake) and Coun Ridley (Sherbourne) have now stood down as directors at the company, for which they had shareholdings.
All three face allegations they breached the council’s code of conduct, which is partly designed to prevent a “conflict of interest”, where councillors might use their position for personal gain.
Councillors are not automatically banned from setting up, or being involved in, a business offering advice on council matters.
But strict rules require councillors to declare their business interests in meetings if it could be seen to influence their deliberations or voting.
Minutes of several council and committee meetings, seen by the Telegraph, show no record of them declaring an interest when licensing policy or laws were discussed.
It is also alleged that running a licensing business while sitting on the licensing committee would be seen by the public as inappropriate, thereby “bringing the council into disrepute”.
The code of conduct states: “You must not conduct yourself in a manner which could reasonably be regarded as bringing your office or authority into disrepute.”
If the complaint is upheld, they could face anything from a minor rebuke through a formal censure, to being suspended as councillors.
ProLicensing is run by Coun Smith (Sherbourne), who has been deselected as the Tory candidate in May’s elections and is standing down as a councillor. He has also chaired several meetings of a licensing sub-committee.
There is no evidence ProLicensing’s clients included firms which were applying for licences from Coventry City Council.
The company’s website states it is “the fastest growing Licensing Consultancy in Birmingham, Coventry and Warwickshire.”
It continues: “Specialising in Alcohol and Entertainment licensing, we are a one stop shop for all your licensing needs.
“Our experienced consultants are able to advise and assist you with all aspects of your licensing requirements including applications, hearings, reviews and appeals for premises, personal and taxi licences.”
FORMER taxi mogul John Preece has revealed that his only regular income is a £60-a-week state pension.
Mr Preece was speaking as he confirmed he had officially launched a £10million legal claim against a bank.
He is blaming Lloyds TSB for him closing his Taxifast company last October, and has lodged a claim in Bristol High Court for alleged breach of contract.
Meanwhile, the former private hire king is living in his house in Portugal with just £60 a week in state pension coming in.
Mr Preece said he has been told he does not qualify for the full amount of pension – because he has not paid enough National Insurance contributions.
But the 68-year-old stressed: “I’m not destitute.”
He said he had “a little bit of income on top of my pension” but it was “different from the several hundred thousand pounds I was getting before”. He said this cash was raised by “realising assets” – in other words, selling things off.
Mr Preece has sold his luxury car, and had “yard sales” to dispose of contents of his house in the US.
That house is also on the market, although Mr Preece expects to make a loss on it.
“I can no longer pay the mortgage,” he said.
A yacht is also up for sale.
Mr Preece’s Plymouth home, valued at £800,000 by one bank, was security for a loan and overdraft, along with personal guarantees of Mr Preece’s.
Mr Preece said his ownership of the house is now under threat and said: “The banks are going for any assets I have in the UK. They have made a move to take my property. They have started proceedings. I will fight that.”
He said: “I’m 68. All I’m getting from the state is £60 a week pension.
“I’m amazed at that. I paid in so much over the years, but they are saying I had not paid enough National Insurance stamps.
“I’m relying on the charity of the few friends I have.
“I’m not destitute, but it’s a struggle.
“I’ve had bigger struggles and at least I have my health,” he said, pointing out that he does not smoke or drink.
“Forty-five years in the business and I have always paid my way.
“I’m realising assets, selling what I can. I have had yard sales in the US. I had a Lincoln Town Car, nearly new. I have sold that.
“I’m living off my assets. I have the boat up for sale.”
Mr Preece said he has “estimated” his claim at £10million because: “It cost millions to built Taxifast up. Taxifast was 22 years old.”
But he stressed the action is “not for me”.
He said he was also seeking the damages for Taxifast drivers who had shares in a workers’ benefit trust, and for Taxifast creditors.
Last autumn, Mr Preece ceased the trading activities of his firms Taxifast Ltd and its parent company Key Cabs Ltd.
At the time he said changes to the way Lloyds TSB financed his companies meant they were struggling to meet the weekly pay bill of their 350 employees and private hire drivers.
He said if he had not closed the companies, there was the possibility creditors would have forced them to be wound up.
The ‘particulars of claim’ he filed at Bristol High Court give further details. It alleges Taxifast changed from an invoice discounting system to a factoring system “under duress”.
Factoring and invoice discounting are similar systems, whereby firms receive cash up-front using sales invoices as collateral.
Invoice discounting involves a business borrowing a percentage of the value of its sales ledger.
Under a factoring arrangement, the business sells its invoices.
Mr Preece alleges this shift resulted in the bank seeking “further unlimited personal guarantees” from him and a huge reduction in the amount of cash paid to Taxifast under the factoring arrangement.
The particulars of claim said this “sudden reduction in cash flow” led to Mr Preece being unable to pay Taxifast wages and therefore having to cease trading.
Mr Preece said there would be two court hearings, one to assess liability and another to decide on the quantity of any damages, if awarded.
A Lloyds TSB spokesman said: “We are aware that Mr Preece intends to lodge a claim but have not received it yet. When we do, we will consider what he has to say.”
SNP Transport Spokesperson, Angus MacNeil MP, today (Friday) warned that soaring fuel prices are hindering economic recovery. Mr MacNeil added that the SNP will make the record high price of fuel a central issue in the forthcoming Scottish election.
Mr MacNeil’s remarks come as the latest AA Fuel Price Report showed that Scotland’s drivers are paying the highest petrol prices in Europe while the cost is falling across the continent.
Last week, the SNP and Plaid Cymru group at Westminster called a vote demanding the immediate introduction of a fuel duty regulator and a rural fuel derogation to ease the pressure of motorists and hauliers. Liberal Democrat and Conservative MPs voted against whilst most Labour Members abstained.
Commenting Mr MacNeil said:
“It’s a national scandal that, in an oil rich country like Scotland, we are paying the highest fuel prices in Europe.
“High prices are hindering economic recovery by driving up bills for hard-pressed households and businesses – particularly the haulage industry.
“The UK Government have the means to stop this highway robbery but Tory and Lib Dem MPs combined to vote against measures to bring down fuel costs whilst Labour abstained en masse.
“Both the Tories and Lib Dems promised to take action but so far noting has happened – and the silence from Labour north of the border shows they are out of touch on this issue.
“What Ministers in London are clearly forgetting is that for many people in Scotland, a car is a necessity and not a luxury. It’s time for real action not warm words.
“If Westminster won’t act then we need to equip the Scottish Parliament with the powers so that it can deliver instead. Fuel prices are a crucial issue for households and businesses, and the SNP will now make them a central issue for the Holyrood elections in May.”
FEARS of traffic chaos during the Cheltenham Festival have been raised after it emerged taxi drivers will not be allowed to use a popular pick-up point.
Bosses at the Universities and Colleges Admission Service (Ucas) have withdrawn their site after a race-goer assaulted a security guard.
Residents say the Ucas decision will put a major strain on surrounding roads during the four-day event.
In recent years, pre-booked taxis have been allowed to wait for customers in the entrance to Ucas in New Barn Lane.
But Ucas spokesman Darren Barker said the arrangement resulted in a security guard being assaulted during a race meeting in late 2009.
He said: “There was an unfortunate incident when a member of our security staff was assaulted by a race-goer who was waiting for a taxi.
“It was too late to cancel the arrangement in time for last year’s Cheltenham Festival.
“However, this year taxis won’t be allowed to park in our main entrance.”
Prestbury parish councillor Richard Fuller said drivers would be forced to find other places to wait for punters.
“I foresee a major problem in residential areas,” he said. “Ucas acting as a pick-up point has been a big help in the past. Taxi drivers are now going to look for an alternative place to park.”
Yesterday, Cheltenham Borough Council was unable to comment on whether it would be conducting more parking patrols during race week. However, Mr Fuller said: “We have a good relationship with the borough council.
“They took action during the autumn meeting at the racecourse and we hope they will do the same in March so our streets are kept clear of cars.”
Prestbury Parish Council has preempted problems with race-goers spilling onto the streets carrying alcohol.
Racecourse bosses pledged to take preventative action.
Cheltenham Racecourse communications manager Andy Clifton said: “We have an excellent relationship with Prestbury Parish Council.
“Following a recent meeting we have agreed to remind customers not to take drinks off our property when they leave. We will include a message in the race card, signs on the exit routes and make an announcement at the course each day.”
CARLISLE’S oldest taxi is still carrying passengers, despite an attempt by city council officers to take it off the road.
Self-employed driver David Carlile’s 1991 Metrocab will be 20 years old in June, making it five years older than the next-oldest taxi plying for trade in the city.
All taxis over 10 years of age have to undergo six-monthly inspections.
The black Metrocab failed an inspection last September. Checks found no mechanical problems but there were paint and bodywork defects, a corroded rear bumper, a torn rear seat and gaps where the doors closed.
Licensing officers decided it could never be brought up to standard but Mr Carlile, an engineer, disagreed. He spent hours on the bodywork, working in freezing temperatures at his home at Hopesyke, Longtown.
And the council’s regulatory panel upheld his appeal last week after councillors inspected the renovated vehicle, which was parked outside the Civic Centre in Rickergate.
Brian McCullough, secretary of Carlisle Taxi Association, represented Mr Carlile at the hearing on Wednesday.
He told councillors: “This is not a safety issue. It’s a cosmetic issue.
“We admit that the vehicle is 20 years old but most of you have looked at the car today and have seen it is in really good condition. A lot of work has gone into it.”
Mr Carlile still has to replace the rear seat and roof lining, then present the car for re-inspection next month.
David Morton, who chairs the panel, said: “This is the first time we’ve had a matter of this nature before us.
“The public are entitled to travel in vehicles to a tip-top standard.
“We are going to allow you a further month to get the vehicle into tip-top condition. If there’s a further breach officers have delegated powers to revoke the licence.”
The call went out just after 7.30am. Taxi dispatcher Maureen Lansley’s car had been clamped and the clamper van was blocking her in until she coughed up the fine. But the drivers at AC Cabs knew exactly what to do. They sent in the taxi-cab cavalry.
Within minutes, every available car in the area was racing to the aid of poor Maureen, the voice of the airwaves behind a thousand assignments.
Two cabs went into the car park and made sure the van was going nowhere. Others blockaded the exit while black cabs, minicabs and people-carriers encircled the site and kept the van corralled.
Oh, what a glorious moment for the ordinary driver against the curse of the clampers. For what followed was a nine-hour siege (‘ongoing dispute’ was the police’s phrase) involving more than 20 taxis and up to 40 drivers at its peak.
Last night Maureen’s ancient blue Renault was triumphantly freed after cab boss Ian Saxton gallantly paid an £80 fine to prevent his drivers facing arrest.
To cheers and applause from onlookers – and shouts of ‘power to the people’ from spectators in nearby flats – Keith the unfortunate clamper produced the key to the heavy duty padlock, took off the clamp… and finally got to go home.
Meanwhile Maureen was hailed as a heroine for refusing to bow to the clampers. Not to mention avoiding the £150 penalty she would further have incurred if a tow truck had been called out.
The drama began yesterday as Maureen, 53, was setting off for work at the cab company, where she assigns jobs over the radio to a fleet of local drivers.
Her car was parked in her own numbered space outside the flat where she lives in Southend-on-Sea, Essex. According to the clampers, it was not displaying a permit. According to Maureen, who does have a valid permit, it had simply slipped down behind the tax disc.
Even when she produced it, however, the clampers would not budge. They refused to remove the clamp until she paid £80, parked their white van in front of her car, and sat in it with their arms folded
‘I don’t see why I should have to pay £80 to park in my own space,’ Maureen said. ‘I already pay £1,000 a year in service charges and ground rent for that privilege. I called work to say I would be late. The next thing I know, all these drivers turned up.’
Paul Sutton, 60, blocked in the clamper van with his cab. ‘I came off duty and headed here as soon as I heard it over the radio,’ he said. ‘We are a brotherhood. We back each other up. I parked up to stop the clampers’ van from leaving.
‘Then the police turned up. The way I see it, the police are there to act on everyone’s behalf. But unfortunately, it always seems to be for the benefit of the clampers.’
The private car park is overlooked by several blocks of flats, some owned by Southend United footballers. Residents joined passers by to witness the stand-off and congratulate the cabbies.
The two clampers work for Preston-based National Clamps (motto: ‘We care!’) which is a member of the Parking Enforcement Trade Association. Its website boasts that ‘tried and tested management methods have proven to be almost 100 per cent effective in solving most parking related problems’. Safe to assume that being held captive by taxi drivers, however, is a problem previously untested.
Cowboy clampers who demand release fees after immobilising cars on private land are to be outlawed under new legislation, being introduced in the wake of a long-running campaign by the Daily Mail.
‘We clamped the lady’s car because she had no permit on display,’ Keith the clamper explained.
A photograph showed two tax disc holders on the windscreen but no permit, which is a green roundel the same size as a tax disc.
‘I saw her come out, sit in her car and put the permit in. She has accused me of getting into her car but I would not do that. It’s nothing personal, I do not know whose car it is when I clamp it. The rules are the rules. If she had a permit on show she would not have been clamped.’
Looking around him he added: ‘I have never had anything like this before, people blocking us in. It is not right and it is not fair.’
The siege of Southend was quelled after police warned the taxi drivers they could face arrest for threatening behaviour and public order offences.
Mr Saxton, the cab firm’s 58-year-old managing director, arranged to pay Maureen’s fine. ‘We came to support her because it was a complete injustice,’ he said. ‘And taxi drivers will always rally round when there’s an injustice being done.’