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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-84)


18 JANUARY 2011

Chair: Good morning, gentlemen, and welcome to the Transport Select Committee. Can I ask you please to give your name and the organisation you are representing? This is for our records. Ian Shanks: I am Ian Shanks, Blue Line Taxis, Newcastle­upon­Tyne. David Wilson: David Wilson, Licensing Consultant and formerly Licensing Manager at Berwick­upon­Tweed Borough Council. Paul McLaughlin: Paul McLaughlin from Delta Taxis on Merseyside. Richard Jarman: Richard Jarman from South Sefton Hackney Carriage Drivers' Association. John Griffin: John Griffin, Chairman of Addison Lee.

Q60   Chair: Thank you very much. Mr McLaughlin, you tell us that most of your business is in Liverpool rather than in Sefton and it is growing, so why aren't you licensed in Liverpool rather than Sefton? Paul McLaughlin: The company was established in 1968 when my mother and father lived in Crosby and started the taxi firm from their house eight years before licensing started for private hire vehicles. Once 1976 came, they changed their fleet from a mixed hackney carriage/private hire fleet to private hire only as a commercial decision because they believed that private hire, as a model, fitted the requirements of local consumers. Once we outgrew our premises in Sefton, by 1995, we were looking for new premises and we did consider a variety of sites throughout Merseyside. The one that we chose, which was in Bootle, was a strategic investment area which many of our staff already lived local to and, with local employment policies that we have, it made sense to try and stay as close to where we had been for the previous 30 years. We moved—

Q61   Chair: Mr McLaughlin, I don't want a long detailed answer. I am just trying to understand why it was. Paul McLaughlin: Historically, we have been there for 40 years.

Q62   Chair: It is a historical matter. Do you accept that your activities have affected taxis in Liverpool adversely? Paul McLaughlin: I think they have affected the hackney industry per se, but the individuals within that industry haven't been affected in the same way as you might think. There was a rather important question asked about the livelihood that Mr Maynard made earlier. He asked the question whether any hackney drivers had left the industry and the answer from the Unite the Union was no. I strongly dispute that. There are hundreds and hundreds of drivers who have left the hackney carriage industry to work with a different business model. Those drivers are joining Delta on an almost daily basis and they do a different style of working within exactly the same area.

Q63   Chair: Mr Jarman, how have your members been affected by cross­border hire? Richard Jarman: We have been swamped by Mr McLaughlin's business for a long time now. We recently had a survey that reported, I think, in September of last year, to see whether we were going to continue a limitation on taxi numbers in Sefton. The survey company gave us a mark of 2 out of 80, 80 requiring the issue of new plates. I think this is almost entirely due to the success of my friend's company, so we are particularly afraid of any change. I know that I might be called a Luddite but I am just being very, very cautious. If we have to accept more of these vehicles I don't quite know what is going to happen to us. Having said that, there are people that disagree with that analysis of course.

Q64   Chair: Mr Shanks, what effect has the prohibition on subcontracting of bookings to a private hire operator in a different district had on you? Ian Shanks: A little bit like Mr McLaughlin here, we are 57 yards the other side of a boundary and 75% to 80% of our business is in Newcastle where we aren't licensed, and it causes a huge amount of difficulties. Again, we have been through various High Court cases and we just want national standards with local control. We would like the Committee here to look at trying to roll out what we have in London, because if it is good enough for one­third of this country's trade, we would like it for the other two­thirds.

Q65   Chair: Mr Griffin, would widespread subcontracting be likely to lead to the biggest private hire firms controlling a network of smaller operators? John Griffin: We can subcontract nationally if we choose to, and we do. If we have a pick­up in the north of England, we have reciprocal arrangements with other companies in the north and we will use them because it is sensible to do so. What I would like to say is that during these discussions what we are missing out here is a very important ingredient, which is the impact as a transport industry we have on pollution. It is very important to understand that. Drivers driving around empty, going back to bases where they are polluting the environment, is a very serious issue. In London alone there are 4,000 premature deaths entirely related to pollution from motor cars. We have to look at revisiting the whole licensing strategy and the impact it has on our society in pollution terms. What we should be considering is having a national standard, controlled by local interests, but we should have the vehicles tested in Ministry of Transport—MOT—stations. They should be trained up to do the work. They would be delighted to have it. They would charge more for it. It would work. I believe that we just need to revisit the whole thing because the way that we are approaching it is becoming so Dickensian. Everything I hear today underlines that. What are we dealing with here? If we are dealing with service to the public, then a person driving back empty to a location for some spurious reason does not in any way contribute to that. We need to look at that. We need to look at the impact that person driving empty back to base has on our atmosphere. We need to address that. We have a responsibility to do that. That is very important and it should be number one on the agenda here today. From my point of view, we are not in any way offended by what is going on in the provinces. It is not what concerns us. We have an open house in London which works very well. The service is very good; it means we compete very fairly. Everybody is under the same restrictions, has to meet the same criteria and it works. Nationally there is no reason why that shouldn't work. There is no reason why we should go back to these archaic conditions. Everything that we do in London works and I recommend the rest of the country takes it on board. The idea that one authority is trying to find some magical financial interest in lowering the standards for financial gain is unacceptable. Let's tell these people, "This is the standard. Comply with it. Do whatever it takes to make sure it happens", and after that let anybody who wants to pick up anybody, as long as he is licensed and he has the credentials to do so, do it. Don't restrict him.

Q66   Kwasi Kwarteng: There are two issues here. There is one about the standards in terms of a national standard and then there is the separate issue of where people operate. What you are saying is you would have a national standard and allow everyone to operate anywhere. John Griffin: Absolutely.

Q67   Kwasi Kwarteng: But a lot of other people are suggesting that there should be some sort of local licensing. John Griffin: Why?

Q68   Kwasi Kwarteng: From a personal point of view, I am inclined to agree with you, but I want to put that case forward. People would say that there is a certain way that a local authority works in terms of transport with localised licences. You have no truck with that argument. John Griffin: None at all. That is where we are and that is where we need to leave from. We need to put that behind us. We need to revisit the whole strategy. What are we trying to achieve here? Are we taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut? Is this a problem? Where is the evidence for this problem? The evidence we see before us is that there is a great deal of pollution being gathered and drivers are being disadvantaged because they could earn money they are denied. The whole thing is a nonsense; it really is. It's pathetic. We need to look at the whole strategy. There are vested interests here and those vested interests have to be told, "We have bigger interests than you." We have this whole question of pollution; we have the service to the public and the levels of that. All of that is an issue.

Kwasi Kwarteng: Your position is very clear. Thank you very much.

Q69   Iain Stewart: I would like to ask the panel, particularly Mr Wilson, the question I asked the previous panel. What evidence do you have that particular local authorities are, if you like, touting for business and lowering their fees and standards in the hope of attracting licences from neighbouring authorities to be used as a revenue stream for themselves? David Wilson: First, I would like to thank you for asking the question because I did wish to have the opportunity of responding to that inquiry earlier. I can certainly speak on behalf of Berwick, as was. Berwick never did anything to attract anybody from anywhere to its area. The trade came knocking on Berwick's door and had knocked on lots of doors, making particular inquiries over difficulties in how to license a Polish driver in another authority's area. Berwick was small; in fact it was the second smallest district council in the country. It had a small fleet. We had small overheads as a council and, consequently, as it is a restricted fee recovery, we had low fees. There have been suggestions that standards were low and suggestions were made that we didn't do any enforcement, all of which I would say is untrue. We had fees that recovered the cost of the service. The standards, I would suggest, were set appropriately. I think there is a big difference. There is lots of talk of high standards, but nowhere in the legislation does it say councils should have high standards. The legislation refers to standards being necessary and reasonable. I think there is a situation where certain councils, whether it is members or officers, aspire to set the highest standards and I question whether some of those standards are absolutely necessary and whether they add anything to anybody's benefit. What is necessary is to set standards, and I would suggest national standards, and there should be a mandatory and not a minimum standard because otherwise you will have a situation where councils seek to aspire and set the highest standards in an area. There should be a national standard for both vehicles and drivers. Then, very much like the Licensing Act where there is a personal licence holder for liquor licensing, a driver could be licensed to drive any private hire vehicle. It wouldn't matter that he was driving a vehicle licensed by another authority because the standards would be the same. It would, in effect, be a national licence. We have national licences for everything else. If you drive an HGV, you don't obtain a licence from your local council. You obtain it from the DVLA and you can drive an HGV anywhere in this country, anywhere in Europe. There needs to be a national standard but it needs to be an appropriate standard; and it's the same with vehicles. Paul McLaughlin: Could I add something more on the standards, using Liverpool and Sefton as a point of comparison? You will have read in the Liverpool City Council submission that Liverpool operates higher standards than some authorities. They were careful not to mention Sefton but they might have. We'd be forgiven for inferring they might have been referring to the neighbouring authority to which they were losing drivers. In the case of Sefton in comparison with Liverpool, I think it is important to mention CRB Enhanced 2 on both sides of the border; the medical is exactly the same standard. There is practically no difference, except for the knowledge test. If you look at how the customers have responded to those standards, of course the area we operate in—Merseyside—is 200 square miles of people all descending on one tiny city centre, which is a quarter of a square mile. Everybody then comes back out of that quarter of a square mile city centre. It is reasonable to assume that, if thousands of people are using Delta to go into that city centre, when they come back they have the option of using a locally licensed cab or they can ring the firm that took them in there. Because the amount of work we are doing has become so apparent now, over the recent years, out of the 8.5 million bookings we do, 1.25 million bookings last year were within one quarter of a square mile. I would argue that we couldn't have generated the custom for 1.25 million people to be asking us to pick them up if we hadn't maintained standards.

Q70   Iain Stewart: I can understand that there is a difference in looking at neighbouring authorities in a city or urban conurbation, but can I return to the issue of Berwick? For Berwick to be licensing taxis and cabs in South Devon, several hundred miles away, didn't any alarm bells ring and say, "Why on earth are those firms wanting an authority at the other end of the country?" David Wilson: Within the High Court case there were several examples given of vehicles that were allegedly licensed and used a great distance away. There was never one in Paignton or anywhere else in Devon. There was one in Mid Wales, which was licensed with the agreement of the local authority there. There was one licensed in Surrey by an accident management company, which provided the vehicle to a driver in Berwick. The position is not always being presented as it is. Certainly once the authority and principally I, in the position I was in, had made the decision that there was nothing within the legislation to empower me on behalf of the authority to refuse to grant a licence—that we did not have a discretion—you find yourself in the position where your hands are rather tied, and no matter what your personal views may be, if as an officer of the local authority your position is that the law is this, you are obliged to follow what you believe the law to be and not to be acting in any way unlawfully. The matter ended up in the High Court and I would suggest that neither Berwick nor Newcastle were triumphant in the ligation. There is a decision by the judge that Berwick did have a discretion, which I hadn't appreciated we had. But, by the same account, Newcastle's assertions that we were bound to refuse was rejected by the court as well. The conclusion was that there is a discretion, we should exercise it judicially and councils should not be routinely licensing vehicles that are working remotely from the area of the council. I think I am probably one of the few people in the country and certainly associated with the trade in any way, shape or form who agrees with that judgment. I wish I had had the judge's foresight of legal interpretation beforehand. But certainly a substantial distance away was problematic and it brings us on to the issue of enforcement. Licensing fees are not a cash cow. We invested the revenue that was gained by these extra licences in enforcement activities. We had an enforcement vehicle—it was high-visibility marked—and we covered the area in which we had vehicles licensed, I confess, with the exception of Mid Wales. We never went there but it was a vehicle that was used on school contracts and was looked after by the authority there. I never personally visited East Riding before I left the council upon unification. But across the rest of the north-east we regularly did enforcement one day a week, three weeks out of the month. A licensing officer, together with a VOSA qualified vehicle examiner, went out and checked vehicles. There is an issue in the legislation that licensing officers do not have the power to stop vehicles but, realistically, if you are driving a high-visibility marked vehicle, you flash your headlights at the vehicle in front, which is a licensed taxi, and they tend to stop, having been given notice that if they fail to do so you will consider prosecuting them for failing to follow a direction of an officer. We never had any vehicle that didn't stop and we had very high levels of vehicle compliance. We rarely suspended licences because they complied.

Q71   Chair: Mr Shanks, do you have anything you want to add to that? A lot of the Berwick registered vehicles operated on Tyneside. Ian Shanks: We operate a large number of Berwick­upon­Tweed vehicles in Newcastle­upon­Tyne. You mentioned costs before. If I use the Ford Galaxy as an example, North Tyneside insist that you take a seat out of a Galaxy for some reasons. A lot of drivers went to other authorities because they were permitted to use vehicles in the format that they were designed for, rather than carry out modifications. For instance, in North Tyneside, if you buy yourself a Jag, you have to shave the foam out to gain the correct level of headroom in the back, and it is just affecting customers' comfort. But in Berwick, again, they didn't. So that is why a lot of drivers went to Berwick­upon­Tweed. It wasn't necessarily about profiteering and making money; it was about vehicle standards.

Q72   Mr Leech: I asked a question to the previous panel in relation to requiring a licence for all the areas that you operate. I am guessing that all of you would not be in favour of the idea of having to have a licence for every local authority that you operated in. Richard Jarman: We would like a quid pro quo to any amendment to the legislation locally: the opportunity to do what the hackneys in London do. You get a licence for the Borough of Sefton, for example, and there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn't go on to obtain the knowledge test for the Borough of Knowsley or Liverpool City. I think that would give us some level playing field with the size of the private hire fleet. I can't see any reason why that couldn't be accommodated at all. Paul McLaughlin: I would like to respond to that. In his summing-up in a court case over the use of a dedicated line in a supermarket that went cross­border, I believe it was Lord Justice Kennedy who said that in order to stay within the current legislation all the vehicles would have to have duplicate plates on, the driver would have to wear duplicate badges and the operator would have to have duplicate officers with badges. That can never have been what Parliament had intended and that is why it needed an overhaul to avoid this ridiculous situation where, technically, to operate like that, that is what you would have to do. David Wilson: It appears to me that, as we have three distinct licences, particularly with regard to private hire in any event, if the operator's base is licensed with the council within the area that the base is situated, the vehicles are to a national standard and the drivers are licensed to a national standard, you've got your three licences. You don't need to get into multiple licences within different areas. You cure the problem. The vehicle and driver licences are, if you like, portable. With regard to the premises licence, the operator's licence, you are licensed with the authority for the area in which it is in. If an operator chooses to open another base in another part of the country, they license with the local authority there. But I don't see why there is such an issue about which council's plate is on the back of a vehicle; it shouldn't be important in this day and age. What that does create is a need for a greater ability to enforce and regulate. We are working with legislation principally from 1976, and in section 68 there is the power of a local authority officer or any police constable to inspect the vehicle and, if the vehicle doesn't comply, to suspend the licence. They do not have the power to immediately remove the plate. They can give a notice requiring it to be returned to you within seven days, which seems to be ineffective, and there should be the ability to remove it straightaway. If the vehicle is not fit to be used, take the plate off it. There should be the ability for an enforcement officer, in any council area, to stop any vehicle that is in their area. It merely requires an amendment to section 68 to say, if there is a licensed vehicle in your area and it's not roadworthy in the MOT sense—if you like, the construction and use sense—you can immediately suspend the licence and remove the plate. If the vehicle doesn't comply because it's not displaying the correct signage according to local authority conditions, I would suggest that needs to be dealt with by the local authority where the vehicle is licensed. We can't expect any licensing officer to be aware of the conditions of the other 315 councils.

Q73   Chair: So you are looking at a different level of enforcement? David Wilson: I am looking at splitting roadworthiness and other licensing conditions. Roadworthiness is a national issue. Richard Jarman: This is a very important point, Chair. My friends in the union were asking not only for the creation of a new offence but the creation of a fixed penalty notice system. Nearly all of the fixed penalty notice systems operated by councils are in fact civil enforcement. There is no criminal record. Fixed penalty notices issued by the police are issued by trained police officers and not enforcement officers. I think there is a great distinction between the training required. But the inference in the request for fixed penalty notices in the taxi trade is simply the inability to obtain convictions in a legitimate manner. A fixed penalty notice system is applicable when it is clearly demonstrable that an offence has been committed. In the case of the proposed offences, it is almost impossible to demonstrate that in the fixed penalty sense. It is not a photograph of a vehicle parked in contravention to a parking regulation. It is a question of whether a vehicle is travelling somewhere at a particular period of time and for what particular reason. There must be knowledge imputed to the driver and knowledge imputed to the operator in that case. I do not think it is appropriate for a fixed penalty at all. It is particularly not appropriate for points. Points are there for a dangerous situation or a road traffic offence, such as speeding or a bald tyre or something of that nature.

Chair: I think you have made your point, Mr Jarman.

Q74   Mr Leech: Mr Wilson, the point you made just before Mr Jarman suggests to me that the cost of enforcement in big conurbations, city centres, would increase significantly, potentially. That cost of enforcement would ultimately fall upon the drivers who are paying for licences within that area. If what you were suggesting were to be implemented, surely there would need to be a complete overhaul about how they costed licences within areas. David Wilson: The issue of fees is another one of these. It is a massive problem and solutions are certainly not obvious or straightforward. I would suggest there is a need for some form of nationally set fees. There are massive issues with regard to local authorities setting fees: what is ring­fenced, what they can charge for and what they can't, and how they account for it. By virtue of the provisions in the auditing of annual accounts of councils, there are challenges up and down the country with councils having to refund money that they were not entitled to, either to individual licence holders or putting substantial sums back into their taxi accounts. So there must be a better system. I'm afraid I don't have any immediate or obvious answer as to how to achieve the fairness that is necessary and that you are specifically looking for. I agree that the authority that is doing the majority of the enforcement ought to receive the bulk of the fees. I don't have any particular issue about that. I wonder whether that is something that is capable of being achieved by using some form of civil penalty, so that those who are not complying pay for the enforcement, irrespective of whether it is a vehicle or a driver licence in that council area or any other council area. I don't have the figures to be able to do any form of analysis, but it is something that does need to be addressed and it will probably be addressed better, nationally, rather than locally.

Q75   Kwasi Kwarteng: Just to clarify a couple of things, it seems to me that a couple of you certainly are suggesting that there should be no room for local councils to be issuing licences. You are talking about a national standard. You essentially want to see a world in which we have national standards and that people can compete for business across a wide area. Do you think the existence of the fact that there is a big lobby saying that it should all depend on the local council is just "vested interest" type arguments? Is this an argument just about trying to protect drivers within a certain locality? Is that your feeling? Paul McLaughlin: It's certainly my feeling. We talked about consumer choice and we think of the consumer as being just the passenger. But in the case of a private hire agency we don't get a single penny from any passenger. Our entire funds come from drivers and I see all of our private hire drivers as our consumers. Many drivers who are licensed by neighbouring authorities would love the choice to be able, on a whim, to decide, "I'll try Delta for a week or I'll try Alpha", who might be licensed by Knowsley. But they are tied in to a selection of operators locally and that would seem unfortunate. It is a double­edged sword. Many of the drivers who are already at Delta might decide that they are not happy with Delta's provision any more and they might want to work for a different operator two miles from where they live, but they could not do that unless they re­badge and re­plate their vehicle. Subcontracting, as happens in London, would resolve that completely because as long as you were a licensed driver you could work for a licensed operator, as you can do across the 30 areas within London. David Wilson: I am certainly not suggesting that the only solution is to create a new taxi licensing authority to license vehicles, drivers, operators across the whole of the country. I think that would be a tremendous expense and probably unnecessary.

Q76   Chair: So you are not agreeing with that? David Wilson: I am not agreeing that it's necessary. It's an option. I don't say it shouldn't be done, but it is an option. There are licensing officers in local authorities who are perfectly capable of doing the job and administering a national scheme but dealing with it locally with their local trade. We have the Gambling Act and the Licensing Act 2003. They are national schemes, with national standards, delivered locally.

Q77   Kwasi Kwarteng: The outcome is the same. David Wilson: The outcome is the same, but you don't have to create a new structure to do it. It is already there.

Q78   Julian Sturdy: I have a question to Mr McLaughlin and Mr Shanks. Under the proposals put forward by Unite, which we have just heard in the previous session, do you think accessibility to taxis would be affected and, if so, why? Paul McLaughlin: Accessibility would be immediately affected. You will have read in my report I refer to this phrase "waiting in the wings". Of course, a hackney carriage and its mode of operation requires it to be in full public view. That needs to be on centre stage. Waiting in the wings isn't cluttering up the stage but it is there on standby for an immediate demand response. It is because of this demand response that we are able to deliver vehicles within seconds, right across the whole of Merseyside. That is one form of accessibility. But, also, the only way to operate efficiently is using modern technology to complement all of your fleet so that you can run as one big efficient fleet. As soon as you break that into small territories you have to put extra expenses on. Making your service accessible to low income families, you cannot do that with half a dozen small fleets when you can with a large fleet such as Addison Lee, Blue Line or Delta. That is how it would affect accessibility. We have also got this idea of enforcement that has been mentioned about whether you can really enforce a vehicle not heading back to base. I would hate to think that one of our drivers who had gone to London, who wanted to have a sleep, was forced to drive back to his own territory before he is allowed to have a rest. That would seem dangerous. Also, thinking about it realistically, if you are not allowed to stop, what you will find is that a driver will just continue to drive round and round the block until a booking comes in, because it might not be available now, but with the technology that is available the statistics that are provided to drivers will let drivers know not only how many bookings there are now but how many you can anticipate in the next hour, based on historical data that is collated over the last 20 years. It would be devastating to the environment and it would inhibit. In fact, the only advantage it would serve would be the financial interests of the hackney drivers who hadn't yet left the industry. Ian Shanks: Paul has covered virtually everything I was going to say, but basically we have some simple statistics. I would say for every 5,000 dead miles, if we keep returning to our bases, it is burning 2.1 tonnes of fuel unnecessarily. Other than that, I think Paul has covered everything. John Griffin: Let me just say that we don't have a problem in London. I recommend that you look at what London is doing, and it works. It has upgraded the level of service we provide to our customers; it is not unwieldy; we go along with it; and it's not contentious. I am listening here to something quite horrendous and I was talking to one or two of the chaps yesterday. It's a nightmare really and I think it needs to be addressed. What I would like to say, because I am in some small respect representing my trade here in London, is that this inquiry and the evidence you have taken here today is relating to cross­border hiring. This is not an inquiry addressing the issues of licensing and tax and private hire vehicles, which I perfectly respect. I don't have a problem with it.

Q79   Chair: Mr Griffin, you are not correct. We put out terms of reference on which we sought evidence, which was quite wide, and we invited people to submit evidence on any issues they thought relevant in relation to vehicle private hire. John Griffin: I accept that. What we have seen here today is the fact that it has mainly and properly addressed cross­border hiring. We are about to go further into Liverpool City Council, Milton Keynes, Northumberland Council, who, I am sure, will have strong views on it as well. I don't have a question on that, but you have to understand the heading on this memorandum is: "Issues relating to the licensing of taxis and private hire vehicles." That is not going to happen today. I am not griping about it because what you are doing is important, but from a trade point of view, as a representative, I have just got to make the point. If you want me to return at some later date to discuss the position in London, I would be delighted to come before you and give evidence.

Q80   Chair: Mr Griffin, we did put out a call for evidence and anyone is able, in fact, to give us evidence. Richard Jarman: In relation to what my friend here has just touched upon and you have alluded to, you did ask for evidence about taxi regulation in general and one of the major problems that exists is rank provision. I put a section in my submission relating to ranks. A local authority may appoint a rank if it has a lot of taxis and commercial activity in one particular place. There are continual problems with over­ranking. If you are going to amend the law, would you please consider asking or requiring local authorities to provide a reasonable provision where it was reasonably required? It can be flexible. It could be for a night­time economy. There are problems in Southport. Every time there is a taxi rank required, Southport are worried because they lose £3,000 a year for a meter.

Chair: Thank you, Mr Jarman; we've got that point. Everyone's written evidence is there as part of the inquiry. This is the first of two sessions of the inquiry and we asked you to respond to the questions we have put in this particular session. There is another session.

Q81   Kelvin Hopkins: Everything I have heard this morning suggests to me that we should have national driver and vehicle licensing, and the only licensing which should be local would be premises, which is understandable, with parking and the appropriate facilities. Is there not an incentive for local authorities to collect licensing fees because they need the money, but to cut back on the regulation, especially when they are under the cosh financially as at the moment? I can see a situation where local authorities will be squeezing their funding for regulation and policing and but still collecting the licensing fees. I can't see a role for local authorities outside licensing premises. Paul McLaughlin: I would like to respond to that in respect of licensing. It is quite ironic when you talk about cash cows with councils. In the Berwick case, they have a ring­fenced account and the money is spent just on licensing of taxi drivers. It is the same in Sefton. It did not used to be. When I heard that Birmingham had been profiteering off their drivers and the District Auditor forced them to return the money by way of reduced fees, I wrote to Sefton Council to start the ball rolling in Sefton. Because of the excellent co­operation we have with the stakeholder members within Sefton across both sides of the trade—the hackney carriage and the private hire—through negotiations, Sefton agreed to make sure they weren't losing any funds into general funds. It is actually Liverpool that seems to be doing that. We have been trying to get evidence to see what is happening to the money and where you have the complication is that Sefton has licensing enforcement officers that deal only with taxis. In Liverpool, the licensing enforcement officers deal with licensing of everything: gambling, the insect place at the Albert Dock, dangerous animals and casinos—anything you can think of that requires a licence. So it is very hard to work out how much of the taxi driver's money is being spent on enforcing licensing and how much is being bled into general funds and disappearing. You have co­operation across the boundaries.

Chair: Mr McLaughlin, can you keep your comments relatively short? You have made the point there.

Q82   Kelvin Hopkins: What you are saying seems to reinforce my argument that there should be a national licensing of drivers and vehicles and only local licensing of premises. But the only problem I can see is that, then, you don't have any regulation of the numbers of vehicles operating in particular areas—that is one thing—and how they operate. I have always been interested in this balance between the hackney carriages and private hire. I sympathise more with the hackney carriages and am more worried about the private hire, because we know of certain abuses. I have certainly had experience of charging and dubious practices for private hire but not for hackney carriages. Paul McLaughlin: In what respect, sorry?

Q83   Kelvin Hopkins: Arbitrary faring. Time and again, I am asked locally, "What do you usually pay?" for a particular journey. In a taxi, in a hackney carriage, you know what you are going to pay because it is clearly indicated. In private hire, time and again, the drivers says, "What are you going to pay me? What do you usually pay?" It's all rather dubious and I want to say, "What is the charge?" I want to know how much it is. John Griffin: You should have done that at the point you made the booking.

Chair: Wait a minute. Let's get some order here. Mr Hopkins, what is the question you are putting to the panel?

Q84   Kelvin Hopkins: This is just an example. My question is: what is wrong with this national scheme with local premises licensing and leaving everything else, if you like, to the market?

Chair: I am going to ask you for very clear and as short as possible answers on the national and local issues. Richard Jarman: Unite have put in their request that they support surveys. In 1847, 1976 and 1985, there was no statistical method of getting the truth. It is there now. Can we have a survey?

Chair: I am just looking for a short response on the national issue. Richard Jarman: Statistical surveys. Paul McLaughlin: I believe you should let market forces decide, the same as you would in any other industry. If there is not enough money to be made as a plasterer, you would move to a different industry. Taxis should find their own level.

Chair: Mr Wilson, I just want very short answers because we've got a lot more questions. David Wilson: I have a very short answer to Mr Hopkins' question concerning fares. As a national standard, you would require every vehicle to have a meter and then you don't have any dispute. As for the cost of enforcement, I am afraid to say from past experience that licensing officers are not paid as well as police officers. They are a cheaper form of enforcement for vehicles.

Chair: Mr Shanks, did you want to answer? Ian Shanks: No, that's fine. National standards is fine by me because I think it is the inconsistency of local authorities that has caused the problem anyway.

Chair: Thank you very much. Thank you for answering our questions.

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