Thursday, April 25, 2013
Murder on Tothill Street (first published May 2012)
On May 10, fourteen months after the investigation began, the Law Commission presented the nation with their ‘provisional’ views on the taxi and private hire trades – in reality, it was a capitulation to the traditional aggressors: the minicab empires.
It should be remembered that there are three main issues, the rest are superfluous due in many parts to them being interconnected. The first, underlines the surrender, the allowing of private hire vehicles to work across district borders.
The L.C. call for cross border hiring’s to be legalised, appears to be innocent enough, mildly describing a situation where a PH Operators vehicle breaks down with passenger in another area. Current law specifically prohibits the operator from contacting another operator (in a different area), they presumably envisage the passing on of bookings as a measure to protect the public. After a few more pages, that credulousness is cast aside as the prejudice comes to the fore – operators would be permitted to use vehicles and drivers licensed anywhere, a complete deviation from the rationale.
At the outset of the consultation, the L.C. suggested they would be working on a blank canvas approach to taxi and private-hire law. Yet within months, the L.C. not only decided to retain a two-tier licensing system, it decided to permit cross border hiring, thus following a consistent line of legalising previously illegal activities.
The L.C. place great emphasis on national standards, although this emphasis does not extend to advising what standards they have in mind, but there is emphasis nevertheless. The L.C. allude to DSA driving tests, group 2 medicals and enhanced CRB checks, in respect of drivers, stuff that most of us have anyway, yet like true snake oil salesmen, great play is made of the magic elixir of standards.
Rather foolishly even some in the Hackney carriage trade are seemingly supporting these standards, although they appear to have little concept of what they may actually entail. Again, the duplicitous nature of the cab trade comes becomes apparent – attempting to set standards on a trade they regularly show nothing but utter contempt towards.
Public safety is of obvious concern, hence the national standards, it is instructive to note the L.C. chose to mention the case of John Worboys – ‘The black cab rapist’ – the unpalatable fact the L.C. appear to miss is that Worboys would have been granted a license under any licensing regime in the country – they similarly neglect to advise of systematic failings within the metropolitan police, this would ordinarily seem too bizarre to neglect to mention – although the L.C. choice to cite Worboys as a ‘black cab’ driver is quite revealing, showing partiality. A balanced document would have perhaps mentioned the plethora of both licensed and unlicensed minicab drivers who have been convicted of horrific offences over the years.
Obviously, the worry of the taxi trade is the national standards for private hire maybe piecemeal, to this end the concern is perhaps justifiable – however it does smack of duplicity – whilst the taxi trade want national private hire standards, they want no such national governance of their own industry. Such inconsistency will no doubt be highlighted when the consultation closes.
The only person permitted to change the envisaged national regulations will be the Secretary of State – as the regulations are national they will naturally cover the entire country – be this central London or the Lake District – it is astounding to comprehend the L.C. would seemingly believe the profit margins of the likes of Addison Lee are comparable to Bert’s taxis of Mungrisdale – which of course would suggest the new standards will need to be of a quality to encompass both John and Bert.
The rationale behind the national standard is that if the Lake District has the same standards as London, with licenses at the same cost – then a person wouldn’t need to travel to avoid localised licensing regimes.
No one can know how much influence of private hire operators are imparted into the consultation, and backed by the DfT and government, we are likely to never know, but the apparent slant is there for all to read.
To back up their fixation with cross border, the L.C. informs of envisaged new powers for local licensing officers over vehicles from other districts. This is all part of the overt plan, a person can still obtain a license elsewhere, the national standards will be the exact same nationwide anyway, they surmise it must surely follow that licensing departments will need the power to check the vehicles and drivers from these areas, thus firmly backing up the cross border scenario.
The L.C. appears to view the expansion of large PH into other areas as a good thing, one where mere fundamentals such as localised regulation shouldn’t prohibit expansion. They selectively appear to forget Dr Darryl Biggar’s thoughts on how taxi monopolies emerge, although, in a manner we have become accustomed, they quote the poor chap to death when his words suit their purpose. It naturally doesn’t appear to concern them locals have developed both taxi and private hire policies and standards over an extended period of time.
The L.C. alludes to private-hire driver pseudo employment, but don’t seemingly have the courage to even suggest this matter should be reviewed by the HMRC. Of course, they’re view would (and still may be) very useful, as theories go empires are generally built through the blood, sweat and tears of others, minicab drivers, those low paid, family tax credit claiming serfs, never get the acclaim they truly deserve. Notably, the L.C. seemingly fails to recognise why the turnover of drivers in the minicab industry is alarmingly high – with the profits of minicab companies even higher.
Of course the L.C. is truly balanced in their views, as much as they seemingly love minicab proprietors, they detest taxis with equal measure. Local authority regulatory control of taxi numbers was a key target from the outset. I am sure most of you, like myself wonder why a body whose job it is to review the law would feel the need to be involved in economic theory.
The L.C. plans for the taxi trade revolve around taxi delimitation, there is little of consequence about the effects, although they seemingly are aware to impose deregulation overnight would create ‘market distortion’ – in layman’s terms they mean anarchy.
They don’t feel able to comment on taxi rank provision – no doubt they gave it a great deal of thought – the same type of thought most of us give the first coffee of the day, one would suspect – one that involves multi agencies such as coffee, milk, water and sugar, plus the limitation of space due to the size of the cup. Due to things like that – ranks were, as you might expect – ignored.
That too makes good sense. As the L.C. are still going to permit cross border hackney carriages – if you can recall a few paragraphs above, they naturally need licensing departments to regulate vehicles they do not license.
The maximum national standards for private hire will be minimum standards for taxis – to this end there will be still localised regulation – just not regulation permitting local authorities to limit taxi numbers. Intimating the envisaged more austere licensing regime for taxis than private hire, although doubtless we will be given some feigned response implying the opposite.
Whilst the L.C. appear to trust local authorities to enforce their new laws, this trust does not extend, as mentioned above, to one where they are able to control taxi numbers. One could be mistaken for believing with such a grandiose title as ‘Law Commission’ they would realise that under certain conditions the law can be just plain stupid. Even the L.C. should recognise that places such as Liverpool, Cardiff and Sheffield were re-regulated due to police advising local authorities that they were spending too much of their time moving on taxis from fouled cab ranks – than doing what they’re paid for – which is presumably catching proper criminals. Unless the law has some type of escape mechanism to allow for local authority action – it is patently ridiculous.
Another illustration of the ambiguities of the L.C. is the lack of clarity in respect of licensing fees. It was acknowledged by Mr. Christopher Symonds QC in Newcastle CC v Berwick DC [HC QBD] 2008.
“One of the reasons why Berwick have received numerous applications for licences from outside their area is undoubtedly the fact that the cost of the licence in Berwick- upon-Tweed is less than in many other areas including Newcastle upon Tyne.”
The L.C. moots the idea of a national licensing fee, nothing substantive, just a punt into the main field of the consultation. The national fee would presumably be set by the Secretary of State for Transport.
The other mooted idea (these people can moot with the best of us) is to vary the costs of enforcement locally. The thought occurs that this is nothing more than fudge; it would still lead to ‘honey-pot’ areas charging greater fees as the cost of enforcement still has a bearing. The alternative would be for some type of licensing poll tax, where all areas pay for the enforcement of the ‘honey pots’, this would be highly controversial, in effect a licensee from the Lake district would be burdened with the cost of enforcement in London. The simple fact the L.C. haven’t seemingly thought about how enforcement will be funded is in itself quite astonishing.
For reasons explained in chapter 12 of the consultation the L.C. remains convinced changes need made due to technology. They appear to miss the point that how a booking is made is of little consequence, be this by carrier pigeon, telephone, iphone ‘apps’ or twitter feeds, it is clearly more important that the person receiving the booking is licensed. To all intents and purposes, this is already the case, the person receiving the booking is already licensed, thus the technology part of the document is nothing more than the proverbial ‘red herring’ and duplicitous in the extreme.
Due to column inches I must now finish this article, but there’ll be more, I can guarantee it.
Posted by Editorial at 4:16 AM