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.
Wes Streeting Labour, Ilford North
To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, whether he plans to bring forward legislative proposals to reform taxi and private hire licensing laws; and if he will make a statement.
Grant Shapps The Secretary of State for Transport
The Government is taking robust action and will introduce national standards with Statutory Taxi and Private Hire Vehicle Safeguarding Guidance, standardised checks, and enhanced enforcement. We will also pursue a national database. We intend to set out shortly these national standards which will safeguard passengers by monitoring adoption levels and engaging with authorities that do not follow them.
The Shropshire Star reports that tougher rules on who can become taxi drivers in Telford are set to be introduced under council efforts to protect the public.
Telford & Wrekin Council, which has been outspoken on the rules relating to taxi licensing, is recommending a raft of changes to its policies that set out who can be granted a licence.
Under the plans, which will go out to public consultation, there will be significantly longer rehabilitation periods for convicted criminals before they can be granted a licence – with those convicted of violence seeing the rehabilitation period going up from five years to ten years from the point their sentence was completed.
Earlier this year a Telford taxi driver was jailed for sexually assaulting a female passenger.
It emerged that the driver had not been licensed by Telford & Wrekin Council, and had instead secured his permit in another council area.
The case reignited concerns about the licensing of drivers, and whether the system was protecting the public.
In recent weeks it has also been confirmed that the council is in discussions with large taxi firm, Go Carz, over the installation of CCTV in the company’s private hire vehicles.
Raja Ahmed, the driver convicted in July, was working for Go Carz when he committed the offence.
Telford & Wrekin Council has also called on the government to toughen up regulations so that drivers can only work in the area they obtain their licence.
However, the new plans will see the authority toughen up its own licensing.
While some offences have a rehabilitation period before people become eligible to apply, a number of crimes mean people will never be allowed a licence, including those that result in death, involve exploitation, or sex and indecency offences.
Those convicted of supplying drugs will not be able to apply for ten years after the end of their sentence, while sentences involving possession of a weapon, dishonesty, or discrimination, will all have a rehabilitation period of seven years.
Drink and drug driving offences will also have rehabilitation periods of seven years, while people convicted of using a mobile phone while driving will have to wait five years before they are eligible.
Under the plans the new policy would come into force from January 1 next year.
Councillor Richard Overton, Telford & Wrekin Council’s cabinet member for enforcement said the measures would toughen up the rules on drivers, but also said he still wants to see decisive action from the government.
He said: “We know our standards for licensing taxi and private hire drivers are higher than those of other local authorities. We now want to further drive up those high standards.
“We want to consult on changes to our licensing policy which include adding offences such as violence, supplying drugs or using a handheld device at the wheel and increasing, in some cases doubling or more, the time that must pass for a convicted driver, before they can apply for a taxi or private hire licence from us.
“We know that drivers who have been refused a licence by Telford & Wrekin Council can apply to another council, then come back and work here. That is why we have been asking the Government to change the law so that only drivers who are licensed by us by meeting our higher standards can operate in our borough.
“We are also in discussions with the taxi firm Go Carz on the installation of CCTV cameras in their private hire vehicles, something we hope other operators will also do.
“It is vital that we ensure the safety of the public we serve.”
Banbury Cake reports that A CONVICT with a history of assaulting a schoolchild has been fined for lying in his application for a taxi licence.
On Monday, Abdul Ghafoor of Grimsbury Square, Banbury pleaded guilty of making a false statement under The Local Government Act 1976.
Having failed to disclose his criminal record when applying for a taxi licence, he was ordered to pay £1,240, including a £400 fine and £800 of costs.
In 2014, Ghafoor had had his taxi licence revoked for assaulting a school child in his taxi.
He reapplied in 2016 and his application was denied because of a history which included two counts of dangerous driving and the assault by beating.
In April 2019 he submitted a fresh licence application and stated that he had no prior convictions, but an investigation swiftly led to suspicions that he was making a false statement.
Cherwell District Councillor Andrew McHugh, executive member with responsibility for licensing, said: “Passenger safety is our paramount concern when it comes to the licensing of taxi drivers.
We work to make sure anyone and everyone who holds a taxi driver is a fit and proper person.
“Our officers have thorough knowledge of what occurs on their patch. Anyone who thinks they can get away with withholding a criminal past from them will find they have another thing coming – as this conviction proves.”
Council policy requires that anyone wanting to drive a private hire vehicle or Hackney carriage in the district completes mandatory safeguarding training, a fit and proper person check and a Disclosure and Barring Service check.
The council refuses any application from people convicted of the most serious offences and requires proof of ten years of good behaviour for those with spent convictions for minor offences.
The Wakefield Express reports that A national register for taxi drivers who’ve been barred from the trade has been backed by the union representing cabbies in Wakefield.
The government is introducing a UK-wide database to prevent rogue cabbies from getting a licence from a local authority, after being stripped of their right to trade elsewhere.
Wakefield Council, which has refused or revoked more than 300 taxi driver licences since 2003, says the register will make the system more “robust”.
And the Wakefield District Private Hire and Hackney Carriage Association has also backed the move, and says it is long overdue.
Association chairman Wajid Ali said: “The register has been a piece of work that’s been put together by local authorities, and it’s been about two years in the making.
“It’s a good thing because it eradicates the bad drivers, and it means everyone knows who is licensing who.
“It should have been done years ago, really.”
Until now, the only way councils have known if a driver applying for a licence has been banned elsewhere is if the information is volunteered by the driver themselves.
Wakefield Council’s licensing committee will meet to discuss the register next week, and how the local authority will comply with its requirements.
A report going before councillors said that 322 individual records dating back 16 years will be uploaded to the database once it opens.
The report added: “The use of the register will provide a more robust approach to considering applications for a taxi licence and will allow the council to ensure they access significant and relevant intelligence nationwide in determining such applications.”
The North West Evening Mail writes that COUNCIL bosses have decided against introducing a mandatory booking fee for taxi passengers following a backlash from the trade.
Members of Barrow Council’s licensing committee were recommended to approve a proposed booking fee of up to £3.50 for taxis at its latest meeting.
But councillors decided against introducing that fee after opposition from taxi drivers.
A number of representatives from the Furness Taxi Trade Association had previously railed against a proposed hike in fares, staging a protest outside the town hall.
And there was more opposition from the trade at the meeting as taxi driver George Harkin spoke against introducing booking fees.
A report by the licensing committee said: “The Committee accepted that the Hackney Carriage Drivers knew their trade and from the responses received, none of them wanted an increase in fares, therefore, the Committee agreed that there were no reasons to adopt other available options.
“It was explained that at a drivers meeting 71 drivers voted to postpone the review until the same time next year.
“The reason for this is that operators have recently agreed to raise fares to the same level as the hackney rate.
“The cost to the Hackney Carriage trade in changing the tariffs on their meters, was disproportionate to the fare increase. There were likely to be objections to the fare increase from the Hackney Carriage trade, requiring a further review and consultation.”
A working group has been set up for taxi drivers and councillor to interact.
It follows a number of recent disputes between the Barrow Council and members of the taxi trade that have broken out due to proposed changes to taxi bylaws.
1. The Surveillance Camera Commissioner welcomes the opportunity to provide input in to this consultation on statutory guidance for licensing authorities with regard to taxis. He has worked with the Department for Transport in development of the draft guidance that was issued for consultation.
2. The Commissioner recognises that it refers local authorities to the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice. The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 (PoFA) s.33(5) sets out that they must pay due regard to the code. It is also encouraging that the guidance refers to a number of the tools the Commissioner has issued to help organisations comply with the 12 guiding principles in the code. As relevant authorities under PoFA, local authorities must be made aware that if they do not pay due regard to the code this is admissible as evidence in court. The Crown Prosecution Service revised their Disclosure Manual in December 2018 to reflect this.
3. That said blanket licencing may be disproportionate and should only be used where there is a strong justification as set out in paragraph 1.15 of the code:
When a relevant authority has licensing functions and considers the use of surveillance camera systems as part of the conditions attached to a licence or certificate, it must in particular have regard to guiding principle one in this code. Any proposed imposition of a blanket requirement to attach surveillance camera conditions as part of the conditions attached to a licence or certificate is likely to give rise to concerns about the proportionality of such an approach and will require an appropriately strong justification and must be kept under regular review.
4. The Commissioner is aware of the blanket requirement for taxis in Rotherham to have CCTV installed. This was one of a number of measures implemented following the child abuse issues in the town where taxis were used to transport a number of the victims. Here there was persuasive evidence to argue sufficient justification but the Commissioner would not expect widespread installation of CCTV in taxis without well evidenced justifications. The local authority’s Senior Responsible Officer for compliance with PoFA and the code will be able to advise on justification requirements for CCTV.
5. Furthermore, CCTV in taxis typically also records audio (as well as video). The recording of conversations is extremely intrusive and requires strong justification as set out in paragraph 3.3.2 of the code:
Any proposed deployment that includes audio recording in a public place is likely to require a strong justification of necessity to establish its proportionality. There is a strong presumption that a surveillance camera system must not be used to record conversations as this is highly intrusive and unlikely to be justified.
6. A key part in the process for justifying a surveillance camera system is consultation. The Commissioner would expect to see clear evidence of public consultation before any final decision about installation is made. This consultation should involve members of the public, taxi drivers, police and any relevant regulators.
7. Local authorities must also have completed a data protection impact assessment prior to installation and have consulted their data protection officer and legal teams. There is a surveillance camera specific DPIA template on the Commissioner’s website which was developed in conjunction with the Information Commissioner’s Office.
8. Where it is the case that taxi drivers use the vehicle for their own private use the Commissioner would expect there to be a facility to switch off recording. In addition there must be clear policies and procedures in place regarding how the CCTV system is used and who can access the footage it records and where CCTV systems are IP enabled (connected to the internet) then they must be cyber secure.
9. The Commissioner would recommend that installation of any system should include a full operational requirement which can be achieved by using the Commissioner’s Buyers’ Toolkit and/or Passport to Compliance documents. This will ensure that a system is installed that is fit for purpose and actually delivers footage that can be used in court if required. Whilst the Commissioner appreciates the austere times that local authorities are working in, he would not expect that substandard systems are installed to save money particularly if the justification of the system is passenger and driver safety.
The Shropshire Star reports that taxi and private hire drivers in Telford are to be trained by the company police forces use to give speed awareness courses.
From this month, anybody applying for a licence from the council will have to undergo an hour of training before taking an extensive exam on rules and regulations on becoming a taxi or private hire driver, plus a practical driving test.
TTC Group, which will run the Knowledge and Driving Standards Test, aims to explore some of the challenges and scenarios facing the drivers, including the rules and regulations of holding a hackney carriage or private hire licence and how to report collisions.
This comes as the Department for Transport is currently in consultation on whether to enforce more extensive checks on taxi drivers in efforts to close loopholes in the system and ensure the safety of residents.
Angie Astley, assistant director of neighbourhood and customer services at Telford & Wrekin Council, said: “Our officers apply the highest standards when we license drivers, and our partnership with TTC is to ensure the safety of anyone using a taxi or private hire vehicle.
“Every driver applying for a licence with Telford & Wrekin Council will receive one hour of training with an experienced road safety expert before sitting a Knowledge Test on what it means to be a taxi or private hire driver and the behaviour expected of them.
“Prior to any licence being granted, drivers must pass this test in addition to taking and passing the Driving Standards test, which is a one-hour practical exam on the road.
“If you book a private hire vehicle or hail a taxi that has been licensed by Telford & Wrekin Council, you should be safe in the knowledge that they meet our high standards – our officers will act on anyone who doesn’t.”
Spot checks conducted in Telford by police officers last year resulted in three private hire drivers facing enforcement action for picking up unbooked fares.
Andy Wheeler, business development director at TTC Group, said: “We have a proven track record in improving driving safety and behaviour and this latest contract will tap into our expertise and systems to help Telford & Wrekin Council ensure every taxi driver on local roads has gone through the right knowledge and practical driving tests.
“Hopefully, the individuals looking to secure their badges will also benefit from the new approach, advice and guidance we can offer.
“Education can play a crucial role in improving the safety of our roads.”