Taxis and private hire vehicles: the road to reform - Transport Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-59)


18 JANUARY 2011

Chair: Good morning, gentlemen, and welcome to this meeting of the Transport Select Committee. I would like to declare that I am a member of Unite. Are there any other declarations?

Gavin Shuker: Chair, I would like to declare that I am a member of Unite.

Kelvin Hopkins: I would like to declare that I am a member of the GMB.

Q1   Chair: I would like to ask you if you could identify yourselves. Could you just give your name and the organisation you are representing? This is for clarity of our records. Could I start at the end here? Michael Hildreth: Michael Hildreth, GMB. Mick Rix: Mick Rix, GMB. John Neal: John Neal, Unite. Tommy McIntyre: Tom McIntyre, Unite. Gavin Sokhi: Gavin Sokhi, Skyline Taxis and Private Hire.

Q2   Chair: Thank you very much. We have a number of questions that we will put to you. In some cases, we may ask individual witnesses for their views. If anybody else wishes to speak, if you would just indicate, we will do our best to give everyone the opportunity to speak on all of the issues here. I would like to start off by asking the Unite representatives if you could explain the background to your campaign on cross­border hire. Could you tell the Committee, as briefly as you can, what the issues are and why you are involved in this? Mr McIntyre, would you like to start? Tommy McIntyre: Certainly, Chair. It's going to sound so simple. We want to change one line in a law, and it is as simple as that. People are making out that we are trying to stop freedom of choice for people who can ring for a cab and where they can ring for a cab from. Absolutely not. I make it clear at the outset that Unite is a union and our members have no problem whatsoever with people ringing for a cab from wherever they want. For argument's sake, in Liverpool, if they decide they want to ring somebody in Milton Keynes and order a cab, that's fine. That cab or private hire vehicle can come down and do the work. There's absolutely no problem. The problem is with vehicles waiting from adjacent areas, from areas or boroughs outside the city. It is as simple as that. What we are saying is that, if you order a cab, the cab can come along and pick you up. Cabs and private hire from outside the area should not sit in adjacent areas; it makes a farce of the whole laws. It makes one ask why we bother licensing locally. As far as we are concerned as a union, this is down to children and vulnerable adults. As it is now, people getting in a cab, for argument's sake in London, would expect that that is a London cab they are getting into. I think that's quite right myself. There should not be vehicles from adjacent areas sitting there. It is absolutely as simple as that, Chair.

Q3   Chair: Could you explain to us why that is a problem? We have Delta Taxis appearing before us later this morning. On your evidence, you are asking for their form of business in fact to be stopped or constrained in some way. I am asking why. We know what you want to achieve. It is clear in your evidence, but why? Tommy McIntyre: Again, it is simple, Chair. Under section 37 of the 1847 Town Police Clauses Act, it makes it quite clear that a taxi can only ply for hire in its area. It makes it quite clear. The law states that.

Q4   Chair: But what is the problem? Tommy McIntyre: The problem is just that, Chair. If you are licensed in an area, surely the people in that area believe that you are in that area when you are licensing or hiring the vehicle.

Q5   Chair: Could any witnesses perhaps amplify that? What is the problem about this? Mick Rix: The problem we have is that where authorities are issuing licences for vehicles and drivers outside of their areas, with the recent case that has taken place, there is no enforcement on those people. That is the major problem that takes place. We need to completely understand that there are two distinct markets that take place within the taxi trade. There are people who are advocating plying for trade in areas where they are unlicensed, basically to move to a single-tier system, where there are two very distinct and separate markets. All we are asking for is this. Since the 1976 Act was introduced, for 30 years there were very few problems of people plying for trade outside of the areas where they were licensed. In the last five years, there have been a number of authorities that are issuing licences from as far afield as Berwick in Northumberland to people that are in Paignton in Devon. With the best will in the world, there is no proper enforcement on those areas.

Q6   Chair: What is the impact of this lack of enforcement? Is it a problem for the consumer, for the passengers? Is it a problem for the companies and the drivers? What is the nature of the problem this is causing? Mick Rix: If you cannot check the vehicles to ensure that they are the standard to which the authority says they are, that could lead to differences. Consumers will get a raw deal on that, and, basically, what is happening is that people are shopping around to lower standards within the trade, which is affecting consumers at the end of the day.

Chair: Lower standards.

Q7   Gavin Shuker: Although different licensing authorities, from the outset, look as though they would have similar standards that they would expect, could you explain briefly why those standards are not interchangeable? Can anyone on the panel help? Michael Hildreth: Basically, each licensing authority can put in place conditions that they see fit that suit their area. That is why you have the differences all over the country.

Q8   Gavin Shuker: How vast are those differences, in your opinion? Michael Hildreth: They are very vast.

Q9   Gavin Shuker: Could you give us an example? Michael Hildreth: For example, in some areas you will have no vehicle age limits. In other areas, say, the area where I come from, which is Brighton, they will have age limits in place to maintain a high standard of vehicle. Tommy McIntyre: Can I quote from a LACORS document that has just come out now? They had a board meeting on 4 December and their answer to this on cross­border hiring, in reply to what you say, was that, as a result of this problem of cross­border hiring, because some councils have lower standards and conditions—indeed, they don't test the drivers and have lower licensing fees—they see that this is why there is a problem. Then they refer to the Department for Transport, saying that they have looked at the different standards and come out with a best practice. Unfortunately, the bottom line in it says that many councils have not followed the Department for Transport's recommendations. So they see exactly what you are talking about.

Q10   Gavin Shuker: If those standards were enforced across every licensing authority, would you still have an issue with cross­border hiring, just to understand the scope of your complaint? John Neal: Yes, I think so. Obviously, with regard to the travelling public, we are trying to establish whether there is a difference in standards with regard to health and safety concerns. But, to answer your question directly, for the trade, it is about establishing a fair playing field. Currently, what we hear from our members is that it's not out there at the moment. You have the hackney carriage licensed taxi drivers, who've spent a lot of time getting the knowledge and things like that within their local area. Also, you have the additional private hire vehicle operators within a licensed area that are also having to compete, as the sort of problem we are proposing, with other private hire vehicle companies that are coming into their area. It wouldn't just end there because we believe there should be a fair playing field. Gavin Sokhi: I was just going to add on the knowledge test and local area knowledge that, if you are licensed outside that area, you have no local knowledge. The customer rings and expects you to have that. Again, you have different service levels and you end up having a two-tier system. Mick Rix: There is one further point to follow on from that. Local authorities also want local transport plans. There could be a major effect on local transport plans and also on the type of vehicle that they may require to have in certain areas. It can have an enormous effect on certain parts of the population in terms of planning and what certain areas require in terms of vehicles.

Q11   Mr Leech: Mr McIntyre, I can understand your argument for wanting to make the change and, certainly, on the comment that Mr Rix made about Berwick Council licensing taxis that were operating in Paignton, clearly that is ridiculous and the enforcement of those taxis would be incredibly difficult. But in certain areas, and I will use my own constituency as an example, my constituency borders both Stockport on one side and Trafford on the other side, and there are private hire operators who are based in Manchester but incredibly close to the border with Stockport or the border with Trafford on the other side. Surely, in terms of customers who might live on the Stockport side of the border as opposed to the Manchester side of the border, they may be disadvantaged in certain circumstances if a taxi base is very close to their house but on the wrong side of the border. Wouldn't it be better to have an area within which a base could operate as opposed to necessarily just the local authority? Tommy McIntyre: I suppose then we would just move from an area to a bigger area. Wouldn't we just be moving the problem out? Any reputable big firm you are talking about operates the way we are talking about. They actually remove the cars. If you order, like you say, in Stockport, that kind of thing, they can go across that area quite quickly and pick up a fare after you have rung up. There is no big and cumbersome thing over the fact that they are going to do it. We are arguing that it is quite within their rights to do it, but the vehicle from another area should not be sitting there waiting for that job. That is all. A hackney carriage can't do it, never has been able to do it, and there's never been a problem with that. Hackneys accept the fact that once you've dropped the job off you return to your area of licence unless you get another job while you're there. If you get another radio job, you can pick the other radio job up. That's no problem. Do you see what I am saying? All we are saying is that the vehicles should not sit outside their area. Where the actual firm works, where they cover, where they canvass and that kind of thing, they can do all that; we have no problem with any of that. It is just the fact that the vehicles are sitting outside their area and, by virtue of the very fact that they sit outside their area people, believe that they are there for immediate hire.

Q12   Mr Leech: Would you accept that there is a big difference between a licensing authority in the north-east licensing private hire vehicles operating in the south-west, as opposed to my constituency where one side of the road is in another authority, and a vehicle wouldn't be allowed to be parked on one side of the road but would be allowed to be parked on the Manchester side of the road? Surely there has to be a compromise position for situations where operators are right on the border of local authority operations. Tommy McIntyre: What you have just explained is that, because what you are talking about has been going on in a local way, it has spread, though, hasn't it, to exactly what you say, to the Berwick­upon­Tweed and the Stockton scenario? They've expanded it, haven't they, and they've made a farce of the whole thing?

Q13   Mr Leech: That is why I am asking whether there would be a compromise position whereby, hypothetically, an operator who is licensed in Manchester would only be able to operate within a certain distance from where that base is, and if that crossed a border they would be allowed to sit across that border but they wouldn't be allowed to go and work in Paignton, for instance. Mick Rix: The problem that exists in what you are trying to reasonably explain could be a situation that came up in the recent case of Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council v Fidler, which ruled that the local enforcement authority where the enforcement takes place, where another vehicle and driver from another area were plying for trade in that area, could not enforce the standards that were applicable to that area. So, yes, it can take place because the courts have ruled that it can take place, but the anomaly now is that the local enforcement authorities cannot enforce the standards that apply for that place. There is a lowering of standards that the local enforcement authorities can do nothing about. That is the problem which may go some way to explain why we may have some antipathy towards the point that you may be making, because there could be lower standard vehicles coming into that area.

Q14   Mr Leech: Would you accept that, if we overcome the issue of the enforcement, having a local area in which a private hire operator could operate would be a reasonable compromise, if we could get the enforcement right? Mick Rix: I would say at the moment I have a degree of scepticism about that because of what is currently taking place. However, I have always got an open mind and obviously changes have been mooted in the recent months about authorities merging and departments merging within authorities, creating larger areas. I suppose, from what you were describing, it could be possible, but there would have to be really stringent enforcement and people need to have that power to carry out those enforcements, which currently, it has been ruled, they can't.

Q15   Chair: You would see that as a possibility but the enforcement issue is the key point there. Mick Rix: Yes.

Q16   Iain Stewart: Is the issue we are considering simply one of particular firms seeking to exploit differences between local authorities in terms of price difference and enforcement standards, or have you uncovered any evidence that suggests that local authorities themselves are deliberately setting lower tariffs or standards in the hope of attracting firms particularly to register with them rather than their natural local authority? Gavin Sokhi: In Milton Keynes—it is slightly different to up north, Newcastle and whatnot. We have the trade in Milton Keynes, and drivers from other licensing authorities are being licensed at lesser standards and then working in Milton Keynes. It only happens because the local dialling code stretches further than the boundary. Back to Mr Leech's point, your merging idea is great, but from our point of view we are in the same boat already. They are travelling in, doing their journeys, and hanging around town. Taxi enforcement cannot enforce drivers from other authorities. So we end up paying more money to enforce them or trying to enforce those drivers. Even if, for example, a driver is found plying for hire, the local authority never gets back the full cost of taking that driver to court. In turn, this puts up our costs, while these other operators carry on working for free.

Q17   Iain Stewart: Forgive me, I perhaps did not express my question clearly. I am trying to establish whether local authorities are an innocent bystander in this. They have set their tariffs for their own area without any deliberate attempt to say, "If our fees were 20% lower than the neighbouring authority, we would get a whole load of extra income." Is there any evidence that local authorities themselves are attempting to pinch different trade and then we would have a lowering of standards and costs? Michael Hildreth: We have evidence of one licensing authority down in the south of England, where I am from, Wealden licensing authority, and through a Freedom of Information request we found out that they are licensing eight or nine different companies in different authorities all within the southern region. Obviously, by doing that they have no controls; they don't go and check these people. The worst case is in Haywards Heath where they have issued a private hire operator's licence to a private hire company that operates out of the station. You have two examples of hackney carriages at this station licensed by Mid Sussex and private hire vehicles licensed by Wealden. I suppose, for want of a better expression, they have used it as a cash cow to raise money for their authority without being able to check that everything is okay.

Q18   Iain Stewart: May I just follow that up? Do you believe that is an isolated example or have you a concern that it might be more widespread? Michael Hildreth: That is one example. There is the famous example of Berwick, where they again licensed vehicles that operate quite a long way away from home, i.e. the north-east, and, again, there are no checks. It was a cash cow again. I think at the height they licensed 750 hackneys, of which, I believe, about 80 worked in Berwick and all the rest worked around the country. Credit to Northumberland—I think they have got it down to about 50% of that figure now—but Berwick were another example that were issuing licences without taking responsibility for the controls of those vehicles.

Q19   Chair: Are Northumberland County Council dealing with this problem now? It is a unitary authority, isn't it? Michael Hildreth: I understand that they are. I had a quick read of their report and, like I said, it is due credit to Northumberland that they have reduced the number of hackneys from a figure at one time of 700 down to about 350 at the moment. Hopefully, they are on the right track to taking them back into their own area and controlling their own area.

Q20   Julian Sturdy: First, can I follow up on some questions Mr Stewart asked? You have highlighted certain areas in the written evidence given to the Committee already where the issue is arising. Is this happening in a handful of areas that you have highlighted or do you believe that it is widespread across the country but it just isn't coming to the fore? I am one of the MPs for York, which is a small unitary authority, and so it is a small licensing area. Certainly I have not had it brought to my attention in my area where, as I say, we are a small licensing area surrounded by other licensing areas. Is there any other evidence from other areas? Michael Hildreth: We have put forward the ones we know of to the Committee. I think that the issue here is that, if nothing is done, this could be repeated all over the country. It needs to be changed, otherwise you could have authorities issuing hackney plates all over the country and then we will be in a right old mess, basically. Mick Rix: The point that we were making is that for 30 years of the Act most of the authorities were acting in a very reasonable and respectable way, carrying out the spirit of the 1976 Act. There were one or two problems within that period of time, but mainly these problems have begun to surface in the last five years within certain specific areas.

Q21   Julian Sturdy: Thank you for that. This follows on a little bit from what Mr Leech was asking earlier on as well. Given the area I represent, which is a small area, we get a lot of people who will be getting taxis in my authority but travelling outside. Is the problem that, if those taxis travel outside of one area, they are looking for a return fare? Mick Rix: There is nothing wrong with a taxi working cross­border with a fare and there is nothing wrong with having a pre­booked fare coming back.

Q22   Julian Sturdy: I understand what you are saying about a pre­booked fare, but, if it is not pre­booked and they are looking for a return fare because they have travelled quite a distance outside their licensing area, which in London and the bigger suburban areas isn't potentially a problem because you have a much bigger licensing area, in a small licensing area there might be an issue. Do you think that is potentially a problem? Mick Rix: The main problem is when someone is spending many hours in that other area for which they are not licensed, plying for trade. That is where the problem is.

Q23   Chair: Is this an issue for private hire that you are talking about rather than hackney carriages? Mick Rix: Yes. Tommy McIntyre: As I replied earlier on, Chair, hackneys now and always have had to return across to their area of licence, so they don't sit outside their area. They know quite well that, if they do, they will be summonsed for doing just that. In reply to the question you asked about whether it is isolated or not, here are all the replies that MPs returned to Unite the Union, saying that their constituents are having exactly the same problem as we are having.

Q24   Julian Sturdy: So you have evidence to say it is widespread? Tommy McIntyre: I am quite happy to leave them with the Committee. They are all replies from individual MPs saying, "What more can we do to help?"

Q25   Kelvin Hopkins: As my colleague, Gavin Shuker, said earlier on, one approach would be to have rigorous national standards, so that there wouldn't be a question of different standards in different authorities, which seems a sensible way forward. The other thing, again, is that, having a larger licensing area and a consortium of local authorities, the overwhelming majority of journeys would then be within that area, so you would not be crossing borders. You could then have a restriction on picking up cab fares outside that area because it would only affect a very small number of journeys. The great majority would be within that area, particularly in the big conurbations. Even in my own local area, in Luton and Dunstable, they comprise a contiguous conurbation but one is in Central Bedfordshire and one is in Luton Borough. That, logically, should be one area. Those approaches seem to me to be sensible and I wondered if you wanted to expand a bit more on those possibilities. Tommy McIntyre: The GMB replied before and we would back them totally on the fact that we will talk to anybody over anything on it. Everybody doesn't have all the good ideas, do they? The problem, as we said earlier on with what has gone on in Berwick, is that it has just become absolutely ludicrous now. The only people who are making money now are lawyers, who will say to anybody, "Let's take them to court on it." What we are saying is: can we just change one simple thing about the return to your area? It is actually in statute law in Scotland now. In the 1982 Civic Government Act, it states that a private hire in that area must return to its area of licence. I don't know any big problems they have had with that. I can accept the fact, Chair, if we look at the real world and we realise that if what we are saying is so bad, then the courts are going to be overrun with people being taken to court and so on. Could we at this stage suggest more of a spot fine for this kind of thing? I realise, although it is an awful lot to my members, it really isn't in the court system. In the big scheme of things, it's not that much. If we could come up with something where we could turn round and say there would be an unlimited fine and that fine was to go to the council for looking after what was going on, I think they would control their areas then. Again, if I could refer back to that LACORS document, they have actually been doing this now. The local councils authority, I think it is, isn't it, who look after LACORS, have been promoting this in regard to smoking and that kind of thing in the last few years, rather than it going to court? They reckon that would be a way forward. They suggest that in their document, which again I would be quite happy to leave for the Committee.

Q26   Paul Maynard: You have mentioned that, clearly, your members are disquieted about these circumstances. Can you just give an indication of what the impact of the changes and the competition has been on your members' earnings within, say, Liverpool City or Milton Keynes, and the impact on their earning levels? What have the financial and numerical consequences been? Also, Mr Rix, you mentioned earlier that it meant a raw deal for consumers. Could you expand on that a little in what way it represents a raw deal? Mick Rix: First, I was talking in terms of where people were being licensed from other areas and plying for their trade in another area where they had higher standards, vehicle checks, or the age of the vehicle and things like that. They are done for very specific reasons, because local authorities attract people into their towns and cities for various reasons and they have local transport plans. Of course, good authorities insist on the age and the roadworthiness of vehicles, because if you want to attract people coming into towns and cities then the consumer should have that good deal. I am aware we have people shopping around to lower standards. That is where the consumer will, unknowingly, be getting into a taxi that they think is licensed in their area and will have those standards, and yet it will not. Yet they may be paying the same price for catching that cab at the same tariffs that apply to the area that they are not licensed from. That is where people are getting a raw deal. It is a very wrong option and it is an abuse that needs to be stopped.

Q27   Paul Maynard: What are the financial consequences for the hackney carriage drivers? Gavin Sokhi: With regard to private hire drivers in Milton Keynes, our drivers generally go out to earn £100 to £150 a day. They can make a good living and pay their costs. If we say we have around 350 to 400 drivers working cross­border licensing in South Northants Council, working in Milton Keynes, they are, on average, taking £10 million a year from Milton Keynes trade and paying nothing towards the trade. So that is £10 million straight out of the pocket of local drivers who are licensed in Milton Keynes. If you then look at it from the council's point of view, they are having to enforce these drivers at a cost, which pushes our costs up, but they are also losing out on the revenue gained by licensing these drivers, which equates to around £100,000 to £150,000 a year. We have been charged more by the council, so that they can enforce other drivers, whereas if they were receiving this revenue standards could be increased further. Again, it goes back to the fact that people coming to Milton Keynes expect a certain service. It goes with the image of the city and we can keep that image and standard high, whereas, attracting in other authorities' drivers, people presume it is a Milton Keynes car. When it comes down to complaints, they complain to Milton Keynes Council. Milton Keynes Council then have to pass it on and forward it on to the next authority.

Q28   Paul Maynard: If we were to take Liverpool as an example, has the number of hackney carriage drivers declined? Tommy McIntyre: No, but can I refer back again to the LACORS document? They looked at this and said that the amount of hours drivers are having to drive is now becoming unacceptable. What you are saying is, "Have your wages gone down?" What happens in the cab and private hire trade is that, if your wages go down, you have to work more hours.

Q29   Paul Maynard: Has it reached a point where people are leaving the industry yet? Tommy McIntyre: That's a difficult one because where do they go? Most of these people are unskilled; they are cab drivers. It's not as though there is—

Q30   Paul Maynard: I accept there is a separate argument about their skill levels, but have any hackney carriage drivers in Liverpool stopped working as hackney carriage drivers on account of this structural problem? Tommy McIntyre: No, but what I am saying to you is the fact that what happens is the driver remains doing the job, but in this case they quote a driver who, after working 14 hours, killed a pedestrian by falling asleep at the wheel. Is this what we want to happen? That's what I am saying. They don't go away; what actually happens is we have to work more hours. It's the old analogy of the pie, isn't it? There are only so many pieces of the pie.

Q31   Paul Maynard: Playing devil's advocate, how would you respond to the accusation that it is all about a dispute between hackney carriage drivers and the private hire market, because you are offering two very different products, as I understand it, given the investment hackney carriage drivers have to make, yet the public might not appreciate that difference? Tommy McIntyre: Good God, absolutely not. Let me make it perfectly clear now. I negotiate in an awful lot of places in this country for fares and what we will set for the tariff. I would never like to go in there just as the union rep for the cabs. We complement one another—what private hire charge and what the hackney charge. If that was to go away, I think that would be really detrimental. You see where I am coming from? I actually think we keep the fares down because we work well together that way.

Q32   Chair: Mr Sokhi, did you want to come in on this? Gavin Sokhi: No.

Q33   Kwasi Kwarteng: I have looked through your written evidence and, sure, I think there should be national standards applied; I completely understand that argument. But the word that comes across a lot in this is the "low" standards, yet there is no real description of what these "low" standards are. Could you give me a bit more colour on that, perhaps, Mr Rix? Mick Rix: When we were talking about standards, we were referring to vehicles. Certain authorities will set certain standards for their vehicles, and it could be on age. Some authorities may not be as stringent on some of those because of the different market that they may be in. It could be very much of a rural or semi­rural area, so it may be that other people may be doing other things within their trade. The point that we are making is that people are circumventing the current licensing authority in which they are plying their trade and getting a licence from elsewhere. They can get a lower standard vehicle, which impacts on to the local areas where they may have higher standards—they may have had to pay more money for a plate and there may be more stringent requirements as well in keeping that licence—and someone is coming from another area, on a lower standard, plying for trade in that area.

Q34   Kwasi Kwarteng: When you are talking about standards, you are talking about the standard of the vehicle? Mick Rix: Vehicles, and it could also be the knowledge that the driver is required to have.

Q35   Kwasi Kwarteng: So it is a general thing.

Mick Rix: There are numerous issues. It could be the knowledge that the driver has to have and it is also the standard of the vehicle as well.

Q36   Mr Leech: I just want to come back to Mr McIntyre again. I am sorry if I come across as picking on you.

Tommy McIntyre: I'm big enough.

Mr Leech: Is your proposed change enforceable, because my understanding—and please correct me if I am wrong—is that, if a private hire driver takes someone from Manchester over the border to Stockport and then there is another job coming back from Stockport to Manchester, under your proposal that driver would have to go back to Manchester before going back to Stockport? Is that correct? Tommy McIntyre: No, absolutely not.

Q37   Mr Leech: Can you explain how it would work then, please?

Tommy McIntyre: Absolutely.

Q38   Chair: Yes, please. In that situation, how would your proposal actually work in practice? Tommy McIntyre: All we are saying is that that vehicle shouldn't stop there. I have tried to say from day one that we are not trying to restrict the travelling public. My wife or anybody else's wife can order a cab from wherever they want to. For argument's sake, if I was in Liverpool and I am dropping off in Manchester, if I haven't got a fare, then I would have to return back. But if, while I was going to Manchester, over the radio system I got another job, fine; there is absolutely no problem with that. What we are talking about is the guy or the girl, when they have finished doing the job, sitting in a neighbouring borough, in some cases for several hours.

Q39   Mr Leech: That's the issue about whether or not it is enforceable. How do you prove that Mr X has taken a job from Manchester to Stockport and he just happens to be waiting for the next fare which isn't for another 10 minutes, so he is just waiting on the street for that next fare back? How do you actually enforce that change? Tommy McIntyre: It's so simple now with the event of sat­navs and the way satellites work these days. All the data heads in a cab or private hire vehicle show where that vehicle was sent to and, indeed, will show if he is booked to do anything else. All licensing officers are trained to be able to get in that vehicle and read that machine. That is exactly where it would come from. An enforcement officer would look in and say, "You are sitting here. You have been here for half an hour or whatever. You haven't got a job. Why are you sitting here?"

Q40   Mr Leech: The answer could be, "Well, I am actually on my break. I just happen to be here on my break." Tommy McIntyre: "Take your break in your own area", I would have said. Gavin Sokhi: From an operator's point of view, we track our drivers. Every piece of information from when they have received the job, picked up the job and cleared it with the customer, to the time they are sitting waiting for the next job is logged. You find 90% of companies nowadays use similar systems and the local enforcement officers are well aware of which systems and software packages we use. They come in. If they are checking on drivers, for example, if they believe they have been plying for hire, they ask for their records; they ask for a detailed report. We can give them GPS maps, etc., etc. From that point of view, it can be enforced because they can request it, receive it on e­mail and view it in a few minutes. Mick Rix: I think the point you are driving at is this. Could it be seen as right to stop any unscrupulous act that an individual might make? The answer is probably not. But the issue here is, if it was possible to enforce, at the moment, because of the Stockton case, the enforcement officers in that local area can have no impact on drivers licensed outside of that area. That is one of the things that has to change. Perhaps one of the other issues that has to change is to look at some form of national standard of training and qualification for enforcement officers, so that there can be some greater understanding within these areas.

Q41   Mr Leech: What impact would this proposed change in legislation have on the cost of enforcement? Would enforcement costs increase? Tommy McIntyre: No, they would actually decrease.

Q42   Mr Leech: Why is that? Tommy McIntyre: Let's take Liverpool again. The Chair mentioned a particular company earlier on. I won't mention it but people know the company I would be referring to. In an open radio show with me they said that 55% of their work was in Liverpool, not in the area they are in. You can accept from that, if 55% of their work is in Liverpool, the licence enforcement teams in Liverpool are looking after a neighbouring borough's cars. Do you understand what I mean? They are coming across the licensing in Sefton in this case and they are actually operating in Liverpool. They are not paying any money whatsoever towards the licensing regime in Liverpool, but our cabs in Liverpool have to pay the bill to foot their cars. Michael Hildreth: Can I just say one thing when you are talking about costs? As you probably know, the taxi industry is self­financing and ring­fenced, so the good news would be that the costs would come back into the taxi trade.

Q43   Mr Leech: I was going to make that point actually. But coming on to my last question, is there an argument, therefore, to say that if you pick up jobs in different authorities you should be licensed in all those authorities that you pick up jobs from? Mick Rix: We would argue that, because of the point we are making, where people are plying for trade for the major part of their working time, then, yes, they should have a licence for that area they are working in to stop some of these anomalies. The thing that we would like to see is standards being driven upwards, because at the end of the day if standards are increased and driven upwards then the consumer gets the benefit of that. There is an image about the trade and people do not often talk about the trade itself. This is a very important trade. A lot of people earn their living from it and the fact of the matter is that we don't want a bad image because that will drive people away from using the trade. It is important that there are good standards and it is important that there are applicable and enforceable standards to stop some of these abuses. With a few of the anomalies that are taking place where people are circumventing it, it is very easy to get back to the situation where we were five years ago where most people were trying to do things on a proper level playing field and dealing with the two distinct markets within the trade in a fair and reasonable manner. But the point that we have made about empowering and training enforcement officers on some form of national standard will be of great benefit to the trade and everyone.

Q44   Kwasi Kwarteng: From my point of view I am just interested in the point of view of the consumer. Obviously you have your own interests and you are looking after your own members, but as far as the consumer is concerned how is he or she going to benefit from what you call the raising of standards? What is going to happen in the future that is not happening now, or what more is going to happen in the future that is not happening now under the regime that you propose? I am not sure in my own head how this new world that you picture is going to be different from what we have now.

Chair: What are the benefits to the consumer? Mick Rix: The issue that we were describing is that in a lot of authorities at this moment in time licences are being issued in the correct and proper manner. Also, local authorities set local transport plans. Also, local authorities set standards for the knowledge of their drivers and also the standards of their vehicles. Some authorities don't apply in a rigorous way some of those standards in all areas. If you have higher quality vehicles and better knowledge of drivers in that respect, then of course the consumer is going to benefit from that.

Q45   Kwasi Kwarteng: Just to boil down what you are saying, you are saying that as a consumer I am going to be more likely to get to where I want to because the driver has the knowledge and the car will be better, I will be more comfortable and I will have a better experience? Mick Rix: You will have a better experience. It is not just representing the interests of our members. We want to attract people to use our trade.

Q46   Kwasi Kwarteng: You think more people will use the trade. Mick Rix: I think a lot of people would feel more secure as well, yes. Tommy McIntyre: Unite have been highly involved for some three years now in upskilling and training cab and private hire drivers in NVQ Level 2, and we believe this is paramount for our trade. They have gone from horse and cart, if you like, to these fantastic vehicles, but nobody bothered training the drivers because we are all self­employed. But, luckily enough, with the help of the Government and the funding for it, we have upskilled ourselves. I think it is 3,700 now. Okay, the number throughout the country is fantastic, but it will be done and when you speak to the travelling public after drivers have been trained it's very good to listen to.

Q47   Chair: But we are trying to identify how the change that you are proposing would improve experiences for the passengers. Tommy McIntyre: In that area?

Q48   Chair: Anywhere. Tommy McIntyre: The simple answer I would give to that would be the fact that the person would have the knowledge that in that area, "This is a local driver I am getting." This is a guy who would have been trained, as I say, in the knowledge.

Q49   Chair: But what assurance would there be that that would mean an improvement?

Q50   Kwasi Kwarteng: I am sorry, but can I just be a devil's advocate? I use cabs all the time, certainly in my constituency, and I would not be able to tell you what make of car they were. Generally, I get to where I want to; generally, they use sat­nav. I wouldn't be able to tell you where they were licensed. I just use a cab and I get from A to B, and that experience is pretty much the same every time I use it. When you say to us that this will be a much better experience, I am still trying to get my head round that. I am not denying what you are saying, but I am just trying to understand how a better trained car driver is going to make my experience better. That's all I'm saying. Tommy McIntyre: Could I just go on a bit with my answer? Our licensing officer is here so you will be able to ask him the same question later on, if he sees any difference. But certainly from our side, talking to people, they say, "It was brilliant. I got in the cab and the driver started talking about architecture and things like that", when they were going through the city. "Did you realise what this building was or what that building was?"

Kwasi Kwarteng: I travel at night.

Tommy McIntyre: They have lights on these buildings.

Chair: Can we keep the answers short?

Kwasi Kwarteng: I just want to get from A to B. I don't really want an architectural experience.

Q51   Chair: Mr Sokhi, I think you want to come in, don't you? Gavin Sokhi: I just wanted to make the point on the knowledge. In Milton Keynes, obviously the test is on Milton Keynes and it is very strict, and if you fail your test you have to wait a certain period to retake it. If you get licensed in your neighbouring borough, in South Northants, they have a knowledge test of 12 questions on Towcester, which is 15 miles away from Milton Keynes. They have no knowledge of Milton Keynes. They are licensed there and then the very next day they are then working in Milton Keynes. If a local elderly customer says, "Take me down the road to Watling Vale Health Centre", they can punch that in the sat­nav, but there is no local knowledge there. Again, if that customer then wants to complain locally, they then push towards Northampton.

Q52   Iain Stewart: I would like to turn briefly to the enforcement point and particularly Mr Sokhi's comment about the use of new technology, sat­navs, to log journeys made. I am just wondering if a possible solution to this issue might be a requirement on firms to collate electronically the data of all the journeys that their drivers use, and if it is shown that a certain percentage of their business is outwith their home authority then there should be some requirement for them to pay an additional levy to those neighbouring authorities. I would just be interested in the panel's views as to whether that might be a practical solution. Gavin Sokhi: The main software companies are providing taxi companies like ourselves with software from which you can run any kind of report you like, from individual pick­ups to the zones you pick up from. You can find out anything, from percentages to how many people you picked up from Sainsbury's today, to how many jobs you ran five minutes late on, for example. You can pull any type of report from the system; so those stats are easily available.

Q53   Iain Stewart: But at the moment that is just used from an operational point of view, I would imagine, by each firm. I am trying to work out if there was some statutory requirement for that data to be passed on. Is that a way of differentiating between firms which are actively registered in one authority and doing most of their business elsewhere, as opposed to other firms who would operate primarily in their own area and have a small percentage of journeys cross­border? John Neal: It is a really interesting suggestion but it wouldn't necessarily highlight the problem for the rest of the taxi trade. The information might be there from a company perspective on paying levies and distributing the money around perhaps in a more fair way for businesses, but it wouldn't necessarily be there for workers in that way. It wouldn't necessarily correct the unfairness within the market in terms of allowing one section of the taxi trade to compete in one way and the rest of the section to be regulated in another way. If you are going to be devil's advocate to the whole thing, then you would let the taxi trades just go everywhere and you would have complete chaos, and the people who have the knowledge wouldn't have to work within the regulation that they do. We wouldn't want a system like that because it could introduce a lot of problems and increase problems with regard to a black market or something like that because it would throw the licensing scheme into chaos, I think.

Q54   Paul Maynard: I have listened very carefully and I just wonder whether any of you can answer this question. Why, when in the post-war period we have had a massive amount of centralisation of bureaucratic procedures and increasing nationalisation of consumer standards in particular, has taxi licensing remained the province of local government, which has such a differentiation of standards? Why has there never been pressure on any Government to take the step to nationalise these standards? Mick Rix: Because it is localised markets. It is basically as simple as that. It cannot be compared to an HGV driver or a coach driver, for example. These are local markets, distinct to local areas, and that is one of the reasons why it comes under local authorities.

Q55   Paul Maynard: But I have to say when I am travelling between Blackpool and Manchester on the M61, I pass taxis from across the north-west going up and down the motorway networks there. In this day and age, it isn't a localised market. It's an increasingly mobile market where taxi drivers are going way outside their local area. So does it need to remain the province of local Government? Mick Rix: I think you are highlighting an issue in a market that has probably increased in the last 20 years as people have become more mobile, and that is where you see people on the motorway travelling distances maybe because of airport fares and things like that mainly, so people are going for a distinct thing. These are normally pre­booked anyway. I don't think there is an issue about looking at some form of national standard for enforcement officers for people who are operating over large distances and doing single journeys or even a return journey, coming back from another area. This market has increased in the last 20 years and there is a lot of this taking place, and I don't think it would be unreasonable of us to look at perhaps a standard for that issue. But the main point we are talking about here is that there are local authorities that are applying the standards and there are some local authorities that are not applying the standards. We don't really need to change everything. It is giving people the ability to enforce and perhaps look at some of the other areas where we need to bring in some of the changes like the example that you have spoken about.

Q56   Chair: Just a final one: does sat­nav and other new technology replace the need for local knowledge? Tommy McIntyre: Absolutely not.

Q57   Chair: Just quick answers anyone. Can anyone tell me why it doesn't? Michael Hildreth: Definitely not.

Q58   Chair: Why not? Why doesn't it? Michael Hildreth: As an example, at Brighton station, I am sitting there in my taxi. Someone comes up and just says, "Can you take me to the hotel next to the roundabout opposite there that's white?" Unless they have a defined post code or a street, they are not going to find it.

Q59   Chair: Thank you very much. Mr Sokhi, do you want the last word? Gavin Sokhi: I would just say, whatever the software and the way it works, that the drivers are given the pick­up and the destination address. They use their sat­nav, it's linked in, they don't have to type anything in, and it takes them straight to that destination. By saying you need a knowledge test is limiting the trade in the sense that, if drivers are unemployed, they have to take a knowledge test and maybe stay unemployed for a further three or four months until they can pass the test, whereas if sat­nav is involved they could start working sooner.

Chair: Thank you very much, gentlemen.

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Prepared 19 July 2011