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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 85-117)


18 JANUARY 2011

Chair: Good morning, gentlemen. Would you please identify yourselves by name and the organisation you are representing? Myles Bebbington: Myles Bebbington, Licensing Officer from Cambridgeshire. Damien Edwards: Damien Edwards. I am a Licensing Officer from Liverpool City Council. Councillor Tallack: Cec Tallack. I am the leader of Milton Keynes Council. Philip Soderquest: Philip Soderquest. I am a Public Safety Enforcement Manager with Northumberland County Council.

Q85   Chair: Thank you very much. Mr Edwards, why is Liverpool City Council trying to restrict cross­border hire? Damien Edwards: Liverpool City Council experiences lots and lots and lots of vehicles visiting its city every weekend night. The problem I have is that my enforcement staff try to regulate the activities of all of those vehicles. It finds within that regulation process that it picks up those vehicles that are visiting our city, picking up illegally. So there is an issue with the number of vehicles coming into the city and the public expecting sometimes those vehicles—private hire—to take them home by not pre­booking, in other words immediate hire. My issue is quite clear. Because of the number of vehicles that visit the City of Liverpool and those vehicles waiting within the City of Liverpool, that presents a problem in so far as the public are attracted to those vehicles thinking they are available for public hire. I can and do prosecute those vehicles, so the issue is real to me. People are willing to get into private hire vehicles that are not pre­booked, which is an illegal act. This amendment would assist my officers in removing that difficulty in so far as the public can't always see the difference between a hackney carriage and a private hire vehicle. They just want to get home.

Q86   Chair: Why can't you, as the licensing authority, enforce the law by stopping people being able to use private hire vehicles that they haven't pre­booked? Damien Edwards: The only way in which I can obtain evidence essentially to get a successful prosecution is to put someone in the vehicle and hire it on the street. That is what I do. I have undercover officers. I have undercover police who hire private hire vehicles on the street. It is impractical to suggest that I could go round every single vehicle and put people in them to see if they are available for hire, but we do regularly prosecute successfully private hire vehicles.

Q87   Chair: What is the extent of the problem? We have had evidence this morning where one taxi company from outside Liverpool has said that virtually it is their policy to "wait in the wings". I think that was the phrase they used. What is the extent of this problem? Damien Edwards: It is not the waiting in the wings which worries me. It is the actual presentation of the vehicles in the heart of the city, on the main roads, on a Saturday or Sunday night, in the public areas. We all know what city centres look like in the early hours of weekend mornings, and private hire vehicles present themselves quite clearly waiting for people to take the opportunity to use those vehicles as public hire vehicles rather than private hire vehicles. It is a very big problem.

Q88   Mr Leech: Mr Edwards, is there any evidence that this is more of a problem with private hire vehicles that aren't licensed in Liverpool? Damien Edwards: No, I wouldn't suggest that. I have prosecuted vehicles from Liverpool for picking up illegally, yes. Quite clearly, I do that. But I have prosecuted an awful lot of private hire vehicles from adjoining authorities and further afield.

Q89   Mr Leech: So it is a problem with certain private hire vehicles or private hire drivers being prepared to flout the regulations whether they are licensed in Liverpool or not? Damien Edwards: Yes.

Q90   Mr Leech: You seem to be using that as a reason for why Liverpool Council were supporting Unite's campaign. Damien Edwards: The basis being that, if my enforcement officers can approach vehicles that are stationary in quite prominent and open places, then we can move those vehicles on and remove that risk and that presentation to the public.

Q91   Mr Leech: But only for vehicles that are outside the area. It doesn't solve the problem of Liverpool licensed vehicles still picking people up without having been pre­booked.

Damien Edwards: No.

Q92   Chair: Is there in fact a problem of private hire vehicles licensed in Liverpool picking up without pre­booking? Is there a problem or is the problem solely to do with the out of Liverpool— Damien Edwards: No, they will pick up as well as adjoining authorities.

Q93   Chair: Is that a significant problem? Damien Edwards: It is a significant problem across the board. I am not trying to suggest it is only cross­border hiring issues in terms of other authority's vehicles adjoining Liverpool. Liverpool vehicles will also pick up, but the realistic physical presentation of this is that an officer will go down a major street in Liverpool and find 10 or 15 vehicles, some from Liverpool and others from adjoining authorities, all waiting.

Q94   Chair: Could you give us an idea of the number of incidents involving the number of vehicles for private hire licensed in Liverpool picking up without pre­booking and the number of vehicles licensed outside of Liverpool picking up without pre-booking? Damien Edwards: I have just had recently 28 successful prosecutions.

Q95   Chair: Against which type? Damien Edwards: Half, if not more than half of those, are adjoining authorities but a significant part of them are Liverpool, yes. I can forward the figures on to this Committee, obviously, but I would suggest that probably in the region of eight or nine are Liverpool and 20 are adjoining authorities.

Q96   Iain Stewart: I would like to put a suggestion to this panel that I made to one of the earlier panels about utilising new technology, with sat­navs that most operators use, and adjusting the regulations in a way that operators would be required to submit an analysis of all their operators' journeys to show what percentage of bookings and journeys both started and finished in an authority that was not the one in which they are licensed, and if a certain proportion of those fares were out of area then there should be some requirement to pay an additional levy to those neighbouring authorities. I would be interested in your views as to whether that is, first, practical or desirable. Councillor Tallack: Could I pick up on that one, Iain? I think it would be extremely desirable because in Milton Keynes we have exactly the problem that is being described where about a third of our private hire vehicles operate and they are not licensed with us; they are licensed with a neighbouring authority. The issue is twofold, and that is the first one. Clearly, we are paying for enforcement on vehicles that are not paying a licence to us and that is a cost upon our council taxpayer and your suggestion would be very helpful in that regard. The other issue, though, which hasn't been picked up, is that we do a lot of enforcement and we do a lot of prosecution. We take people into the Milton Keynes magistrates' court and drivers get fined. The difficulty is that if those vehicles are registered in Milton Keynes they then come back to Milton Keynes Council, where the Licensing Regulation Committee takes a very tough line on the continued licence of drivers who have infringed the law. Drivers who are licensed with a different authority, of course, are left for that authority to deal with. The real differential is the fact that we prosecute people and, yes, they get a fine from the magistrates' court, but the real disincentive is the local authority removing their licence from them. If it is a Milton Keynes vehicle, we can do that through cases have that gone through the Milton Keynes courts, but, of course, if it is a vehicle that is licensed with another authority, it is then down to that authority to be as stiff or lenient as that authority chooses. If we are tougher than our neighbours, all we are providing is an incentive for people to move to the authority that is likely to take the most lenient approach on the matter. Myles Bebbington: Perhaps I could offer something on that. We are an authority that surrounds a very compact city. Is your question aimed purely at private hire vehicles, because the situation would balance itself out in our area in the fact that a number of hackney carriage vehicles which legitimately pick up journeys from within the city boundary terminate their journeys often outside of the city in our area? There is some degree of merit in the proposal, but it is something that will have to be thought through in a level playing field across all aspects.

Q97   Iain Stewart: I don't have an issue with journeys that start in one area and finish in another. It is those journeys where they start and finish outwith the licensed area. Many firms will do cross­border journeys as a small part of their business. That is not the issue. It is those firms which deliberately register with one authority and ply for their trade exclusively elsewhere. Philip Soderquest: Technology does have a part to play in this; but, again, you are placing significant responsibility upon the licensing authority to verify and vet those records on a regular basis, and, obviously, technological advances will change from time to time. Also, when you are looking at the difference in private hire, there is a current requirement obviously to record those journeys, as the operator, in terms of inviting the booking. There is no similar requirement within hackney carriages; that doesn't exist at the moment. If the proposal is that there is a similar request for hackney carriages, there may well be some merit. But again we then come to, I suppose, the application for licences. If you look at the hackney carriage proprietor's licence and you look at the Berwick decision, the question there is about the intended use of that vehicle. What you are proposing is that you make an assessment of the business potentially where the business is driven from. Is it within the authority where it is based or is it outside? But the current licensing arrangement will say you assess an entitlement to licence or consider the use of that particular vehicle before granting a licence, as opposed to across the use of the whole fleet, as it were. When you get into the technology side, again you are going to have to drill down quite significantly into each and every individual vehicle to say, "Was that one particular vehicle used within or outside for a predominant use or for otherwise?" But I will come back and say there is merit in technology, which is obviously not recognised currently.

Q98   Gavin Shuker: I just want to look at a few issues relating to the fact that you represent local authorities. First of all, why do local authorities often set high standards while neighbouring authorities will set lower ones? What are the factors that go into deciding how you set your standards? Myles Bebbington: Perhaps I can come back on that. There are a number of contributory factors to that. Some are actively seen. If you are working in a city centre, taking Luton as an example, you see every Friday and Saturday night a hub of taxis. There is an industry there that you can witness directly and that can have a knock­on effect of public awareness. Quite often, possibly within rural authorities, it is not something you see on a day­to­day basis. People operate their one­man­band operations, the area is very spread, and you don't see something on a regular basis to the public eye and to the council's eye. Our authority has worked, over the last few years, to work with our neighbouring authority to ensure compliance and to be as close as we can in the conditions that we adopt. We currently only have one stumbling point, which is a knowledge test. It is very difficult to adopt a knowledge test in a rural area which is 350 square miles. It is easier done, arguably, in a small compact area that is probably only three, four, or five square miles across. It is the way the industry has developed to a degree and the way it is perceived by the public. If you see 40 to 50 taxis sat outside, it is there in front of you. Philip Soderquest: I think in terms of the expression "high standards", there has to be a question of who has defined what is a high standard and what is a low standard. My personal experience is that as a licensing authority we try to set standards which are appropriate and necessary for protecting public safety and ensuring vehicles are roadworthy, and ensuring that the drivers who carry out the work are fit and proper persons. So, yes, we will apply certain standard tests in terms of a CRB and medical, etc. which I think are reasonable. I would not express them as being high standards. I would just say I think they are reasonable standards. When it comes to vehicles, it is possibly, again, not a question of what a high standard is. It is probably the variation of standards. Again, we probably only have two or three purpose-built or manufactured taxis. The rest of the trade—the majority of the trade—is using a saloon vehicle, a traditional family vehicle. Again, what licensing authorities are trying to do is to look at this, take their role very seriously and think, "This vehicle is being used to transport the public. There is a fare being paid for here, so we don't need just the basics of the vehicle. There is some expected higher standard." That is a consideration, but, also, as has been mentioned previously, there are things like emission standards. Do we go for Euro standards in terms of the emissions, in terms of the carbon issue? Do we look at NCAP ratings in terms of safety, because, ultimately, the vehicle is being used to transport the public at a cost? I would not necessarily say it is a high standard. We are trying to think what is a reasonable standard. I think the issue is probably more about the variation of standards, as opposed to one being high and one being low. Councillor Tallack: Every local authority sets its own standards and the nature of local authorities and, indeed, the nature of localism is such that, when you have a debate locally, different localities will come to different decisions. You have to accept that. It does cause a problem, particularly with outside operators, if the standards are radically different. But, as you say, the local authority has to decide whether it wants a high standard of vehicle and driver or is prepared to accept a lower standard. It does become a problem when two neighbouring authorities have very different standards, but I don't think that local authorities need to apologise for the fact that those decisions are taken locally.

Q99   Gavin Shuker: Just on that, it would strike me as sensible to have as much parity between matching local authorities for the local authorities themselves. Are there restrictions currently within the legislation that prevent you from working closely together as local authorities? Councillor Tallack: No, and indeed we do. In fact, one of the factors that affects our view of what our standards ought to be are the standards adopted by our neighbours, for precisely those reasons. Myles Bebbington: The problem with that is that you may get two authorities or even three authorities within a given area roughly, broadly speaking, on the same standards. But then you can have a case where, over a distance, that dissipates. So 100 miles away it is something totally different.

Q100   Chair: Have you had situations where local authorities have widely differing standards and the driver might seek to be registered with an authority that requires a lower standard? Philip Soderquest: Obviously, Northumberland was established in April 2009 following local government reorganisation and that brought together six former district councils. Even within that small locality—it is about 3,000 square miles—we had six different sets of standards across the hackney carriage fleet and across the private hire fleet, whether that be based on colour, age, policy or otherwise. There are differences, yes, and it does create problems. It has been said before that, potentially, this is where the trade look at local authorities and say, "Why can one authority deem that to be acceptable but another authority don't view that as being acceptable?" Potentially, this is where the trade may look and think, "There is a lesser standard in authority X. I can use that vehicle potentially as a hackney carriage or otherwise to fulfil private hire bookings. It is a legal and lawful activity. Why shouldn't I do it?"

Q101   Kelvin Hopkins: I have two questions. First of all, from what Councillor Tallack was saying, there seems to be an incentive to private hire cars - if they are going to tout for hackney carriage business illegally by picking up people on the street - to do it in another authority where they won't lose their licence, where they will only get a fine. Whereas, if they do it in their own authority they could potentially lose their licence as well. That is what you are saying, I think. That is one thing. Another point Mr Edwards is suggesting, and, indeed, where private hire cars are attempting to pick up from the street, suggests there are not enough taxis. I must say I have never been absolutely convinced that we need two categories of vehicles anyway. Is it the case that in other countries there is just "the taxi trade" and there isn't a private hire trade? I have heard some of them before, but if you could make the case for having a private hire trade as well as a taxi trade, a hackney carriage trade, could you make those arguments just very briefly again and convince me that we do need two categories of vehicles and we should not just have hackney carriages?

Chair: Is it time to change the legislation and stop the distinction between hackney and private hire? Councillor Tallack: My view is that that would be very helpful, because the public don't understand the difference. The problem is that the public get into private hire vehicles precisely because they don't understand the difference. Late at night, the people who are looking for a way of getting home are infrequent users of taxis because they are people who have usually gone to an entertainment district, would normally travel by buses which have stopped or private cars which they haven't taken because they have had something to drink. There is no reason why we should expect them to understand the difference between going to a hackney rank and waiting for the hackney to arrive and telephoning a private hire car. In my view it would help the situation enormously if all forms of taxis could do both forms of finding their customer.

Q102   Chair: Mr Edwards, what is your view? Should there be a change to stop there being a distinction? Damien Edwards: No, I don't agree with that summary. I think that local authorities are best placed to work out the demands and needs of local residents and there is a need for both public and private hire the way it is now. The two need to co­exist and need to be developed. At the moment Liverpool obviously has a purpose-built hackney carriage fleet, which makes a major provision in respect of disability. I would not like anything to change that ability to deliver that kind of accessibility to the disabled. At the same time, I understand that people want to use private hire in the way that they currently do and I wouldn't want that to be removed. The two levels of service delivery are equally as important and should be maintained. Myles Bebbington: I think it merits investigation. However, in a rural authority, I have hundreds of drivers who never go near a city centre. You have heard today evidence on the hot spots on a Friday and Saturday night and the way people perceive the different trades. But we have a vast number of drivers who specialise in corporate work, purely airport runs, chauffeuring-type work. If there was to be one standard public service vehicle across the country, consideration has to be given to that area of the trade. If there is a public service vehicle and that public service vehicle must be wheelchair accessible, and there are various edicts from on high as to how these vehicles shall operate and shall look, there is a large area of the trade that does not get involved in the pub to club type private hire work that you are talking about.

Q103   Chair: So you would not agree with changing the legislation? Myles Bebbington: I think it merits investigation, but it is an investigation that has to be entered into with your eyes open. There is a wider aspect to private hire and hackney carriage than just the city centre.

Chair: Dr Kwarteng, is it on that point?

Q104   Kwasi Kwarteng: It was on a point that Mr Edwards made just before Mr Bebbington gave his submission, specifically about the role of the local authority. You mentioned that disabled access was something you promoted. My question is a little bit more general than that. Why should local authorities be allowed to regulate the number of taxis licensed in a district and how does that benefit the consumer? You touched upon that but I just want to see if you can expand on that. Damien Edwards: It is about local needs and local demands. Liverpool regulates the number of hackney carriages it has. It is pretty much simple reasoning. It creates a larger availability at night time.

Q105   Kwasi Kwarteng: That wouldn't be provided? Damien Edwards: That wouldn't be provided if you took the limits off. If you took the limits off, my perception would be that a lot of drivers would go home at eight o'clock. It might be a lone experience; I don't know. But, with double­shifting, which is what happens when you have a regulated fleet of a certain number because drivers do split their vehicle shifts, you get a large number of people working at night. In Liverpool's case, it works that regulation locally, setting the numbers, creates a larger number of vehicles available at night.

Q106   Kwasi Kwarteng: What you are saying is that without your involvement the consumer could get a worse service? Damien Edwards: I have a fear that the consumer would end up having less hackney carriage vehicles without my involvement, yes. Philip Soderquest: Just to comment on that, we can be too simplistic when we look at limiting numbers. There is an ability to look at unmet need and regulate the numbers. Current guidance or best guidance is that you look at it as part of the overall transport plan. It is not done in isolation. You look at what is your transport infrastructure within any given one location. Again, if I look at Northumberland, Northumberland is heavily reliant upon taxis and private hire vehicles because it doesn't have an intensive public infrastructure. It doesn't have metros or late night buses, etc., etc., if you compare that with places like Newcastle City Council, which has extensive bus routes, trains coming into the city centre, etc. So it has to be part of your local transport plan because there may be reasons why you physically want to reduce the number of vehicles coming into the town centre.

Q107   Chair: It is all to do with the local circumstances. Councillor Tallack: I would like to disagree very strongly with that. Milton Keynes was limited until 2002, when the council removed the limit. The availability of hackney carriages has increased tremendously since then. The problem with limitation is that the people who have licences tend to go for the prime business by going to the station during working hours, getting business customers who might tip well and so on. We were finding that when we were talking about late in the evening and so on there were just no hackney carriages on the ranks. That situation changed, and changed pretty quickly, after we did it eight years ago and I certainly wouldn't want to go back to that previous situation.

Q108   Mr Leech: If Unite's plan on their cross­border pick­ups was introduced, what would the impact be on the work of your enforcement officers? What would the impact be on cost of enforcement and would it be enforceable? Damien Edwards: I would envisage it would be an enforceable regime, yes. To approach vehicles and ask them to move on is not, I would think, an onerous task. It wouldn't cost that much, to be honest, in terms of shifts. Our officers are out at night anyway. I don't think it would impact in Liverpool to implement that particular amendment. It would save me having to set up joint operations with other agencies to go undercover. It would benefit Liverpool in terms of its enforceable activity to have a simpler, more straightforward resolution of the problem that is presented by vehicles standing on the street plying for hire.

Q109   Chair: How much undercover work is being done? Damien Edwards: Currently, it is every other week that we try and get out with the police and do undercover work.

Q110   Mr Leech: But would it take away resources from doing that undercover work and checking whether drivers are picking up people illegally in order to get them to be moving people on who should not be in that area? Damien Edwards: We would have to do both, wouldn't we? We would have to continue with our undercover operations on a lesser standard, a lesser scale, but I think we can present more officers because of that on the street to deal with the issue of simply moving vehicles on, rather than having to present a whole raft of evidence to the court in terms of insurance offences, in terms of being in the vehicle, talking about conversations. It would be a lot easier just to have a simple moving on element to the legislation. Philip Soderquest: I suppose it is one of these things that until it happens you don't know. But I would suggest that if there was an offence created of "waiting in the wings", which is the expression that was used, the question is, would the operators then comply with that? Would you get natural compliance with that, and in turn would you then see a reduction in your need for enforcement? Again, it probably comes back to what sanctions would exist if the offender continually breached that by allowing the vehicles to stand. What is being said is that vehicles can be tracked and identified where they are waiting; therefore the operator knows where they are. If that is happening on a regular basis, is the sanction against the driver or the operator? If it is against the operator, then I would suggest it would be in the operator's own interest to ensure compliance with that particular piece of legislation. It is a probably a case of seeing how that would evolve over time in terms of compliance. Damien Edwards: Non­compliance is a driver issue. Operators do not want their drivers to pick up illegally. Operators do not want their drivers to take work that is not given to them by an operator. It is a driver issue and, quite rightly, if a driver incurs a fixed penalty or a byelaw offence for that, then the power is there for the local authority to remove, suspend or revoke that licence as it wishes. Myles Bebbington: As a local authority outside of a city centre, the question was about how it would impact on enforcement. As the legislation stands at the moment, the enforcement would still primarily lie with the district that is being affected; so, in fundamental terms, it wouldn't change anything. Liverpool is still having to deal with private hire vehicles coming from outside of the area. The next question was about "waiting in the wings". I think it would be a solicitor's cash cow because how do you prove someone is waiting in the wings? All that will happen is, rather than proving plying for hire, which has been indicated to you is a relatively straightforward offence—you walk up, you get in, you ask to go from A to B and if they commit the offence, it is there—you will end up just chasing vehicles around all night.

Chair: We have had evidence today from an operator who says that that is what they do, presumably as policy.

  Myles Bebbington: Yes.

Q111   Julian Sturdy: We have heard a lot about cross­border hire already from the different panels. While you are all here, I just wanted to go on to a slightly different tack, if I could, with your experience in licensing and enforcement. Do you have or have you had any issues with unlicensed vehicles masquerading as taxis? Is that an issue in the past and now? Damien Edwards: No, I haven't, and you are hitting, I think, a very important point. Because we regulate our vehicles the way we do and we look at illegal plying for hire so consistently, we don't, but my fear is that, if we ever let go of that enforcement role, then it could evolve that people will start using vehicles illegally, they will start using unlicensed vehicles and go out driving unlicensed vehicles. Philip Soderquest: It is a source of complaint, there is no doubt about that. But the difficulty is trying to carry out an operation which would then allow you to book or hire an unlicensed vehicle. If you are going through, let's say, an operator, an owner, who has both licensed and unlicensed vehicles, he is more likely than not to supply you with a licensed vehicle if you are just making a booking. Again, I would tend to suggest that, yes, it happens and there is probably a trade between known operators and consumers, knowing that they are using an illegal taxi, but trying to catch one in the street is a very difficult activity, especially when you are talking about rural areas such as ourselves, which is 2,800 square miles.

Q112   Julian Sturdy: You think it is potentially going on a lot more because it is very difficult to detect. Philip Soderquest: There is a possibility of that. We have two or three repeat complaints, but trying to catch them in the act is proving very difficult. If you try and do a test purchase, how do you know which vehicle you are trying to test purchase against? As I say, I think they tend to supply the vehicle to an existing customer or a known customer as opposed to just plying for hire within our locality, not necessarily in some of the more urban areas.

Q113   Chair: Would a solution to this problem be having licensing areas wider than individual local authorities, say, a Merseyside area or a Greater Manchester area or something similar to that? I would like to ask Councillor Tallack and Mr Edwards if they think that would be a solution to the cross­border hiring issue. Councillor Tallack: It might be. It depends upon what those areas are because there is always a cross­border. However, certainly our issue relates to the fact that Milton Keynes is under­bounded—i.e. part of our real urban area is in another authority—and it especially applies to people operating out of that area. People think it is part of Milton Keynes, but it is not part of our administration. Clearly, providing those boundaries outside urban areas, it might well work in that way. Damien Edwards: I am not so sure it would work. Previous witnesses have said that if you set a boundary it just becomes a bigger, geographically larger problem. It will always be the case that Liverpool and any other major city will be the star attraction for all the neighbouring authorities. I don't know if that would benefit a Merseyside licence or a Greater Manchester licence. I don't think it would be of benefit in this respect. Philip Soderquest: I think I would endorse that. There will always be a cross­boundary issue. You just potentially move that boundary to somewhere else. Within the Berwick judgment it talked very much about the term "remote". What is "remote"? Do you then change what is remote from a larger licensing area to a different licensing area? There has been a lot said on national standards, which would give you a national approach but something that was capable of being delivered at a local level by the existing licensing authorities. The only word of caution I would exercise is that there has been an analogy drawn with the Licensing Act and personal licence holders being able to use their licence up and down the country, etc., which, yes, works well. The major failing, though, of that particular system, and any national system, is the lack of a national database. That is a huge issue within the Licensing Act 2003. You can be licensed in one authority where you live and use your licence in a competing authority. That, however, is not recognised in the national database of licences. If there is some consideration or thought of a national approach, national standards or national driver licensing, as it were, there has to be a national database which local authorities can check against to ensure that that person is licensed within a local authority.

Q114   Chair: Should taxis be more important parts of local transport plans? Philip Soderquest: Yes.

Q115   Chair: Nods don't go on the record. If people are saying "yes"— Damien Edwards: But they've always been the poor relation—haven't they?—and it's only of late that—

Q116   Chair: You think they should be— Damien Edwards: local transport plans have had mighty visions of integrated transport, incorporating trains, buses, taxis and private hire.

Q117   Chair: Is that a "yes"? Damien Edwards: That's a "yes". Councillor Tallack: I would argue that they are but, of course, that is open to interpretation, isn't it? Philip Soderquest: I think the answer is "yes", as I alluded to before. If you are looking at capping the numbers of taxis, it is not a simplistic thing. It has to be part of your local transport plan. Within Northumberland, we haven't limited the numbers. We do have an open trade; we have fair trade and competition. But we don't have a massive public transport infrastructure so taxis—private hire—especially within remote rural areas, are a huge part of the local transport infrastructure, because it is not provided by other national providers.

Chair: Thank you very much, gentlemen, for coming and answering our questions.

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