Firstly, I should introduce myself.
My name is Lee Ward and I have worked in the Taxi & Private Hire industry for the last 22 years covering just about every role related to it, ‘telephonist, radio operator, manager, owner and also as a driver. I am now the chairman for a drivers’ association based in Sheffield known as ALPHA.
Like many people who will read this document, I have seen the trade change, or perhaps evolve, a great deal over the past two decades, some changes for the benefit of the industry and some to its detriment.
The current state of affairs that we all face is now of a significant level that we have the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Taxis, the Communities and Local Government Committee, and the Task and Finish Group on Taxi and Private Hire Licensing. Plus, we have the Institute of Licensing, the Local Government Association and the Department for Transport.
Six departments, all wishing to put the industry to rights, all with their own ideas and perhaps even agendas, but to my knowledge none of them talking to each other let alone the industry and the people who actually know, understand and work in it.
The industry has always had a fine balance between both tiers, that of the Taxi and the Private Hire, it always had a ‘them and us’ aura to it, but the two tiers lived side by side in a status quo in what could be described as a finely balanced eco system.
Then things changed, some of it due to the negligence of a small minority of authorities, some by deregulation and some by technology.
Remote Licensing is where authorities licensed vehicles knowing full well that they would not work in the area to which that authority enforced.
Deregulation opened the borders, leaving an intended loophole that benefits the owner of a company, but not the authority or the self-employed drivers.
Cross Border hiring where drivers licensed in one area work predominantly in another.
These are the three issues that the six groups mentioned above should challenge, although I am aware that other subjects have been thrown into the mix such as mandatory CCTV in all vehicles with which I agree in principal but not as it is being sold. CCTV does not make a driver ‘fit and proper’ and it should not be sold on the basis of what happened in Rotherham: it seems that unfortunate issue is being used as a catch-all to pass any new policy up and down the country.
I wish to break down the three issues that the trade faces, and perhaps give my opinion on how these could be addressed to solve these issues nationwide while at the same time keep the spirit and the intention of what the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 meant, because I truly believe that the intention of this Act stands today.
Remote licensing has developed from authorities licensing both drivers and vehicles to operate outside that authority’s area.
This was first born by the case of Newcastle v Berwick upon Tweed (2008) where Newcastle was concerned that Berwick were issuing Hackney licences to drivers who had no intention to work within Berwick but worked in predominantly if not solely in Newcastle as Private Hire Vehicles. In the court case the Judge agreed that the issuing authority had a due care to enforce the vehicle while working and by being out of area removed the practical enforcement.
Once this case was made public, drivers sought other authorities where they could be granted a Hackney licence with ease, to then work in the area that they lived, therefore circumventing the local requirements and conditions.
Technology has brought this one step further, because no longer is a Hackney licence required, a Private Hire licence can also do the same, which is to circumvent the authority’s requirements by remote licensing.
Before technology progressed, the main reason that drivers worked ‘locally’ was that the communication between a base and a vehicle could only travel a certain distance. While computers assisted in the speed of the distribution of work, the advent of the industry utilising mobile communications the same as the public use for mobile phones, increased the distance of communication between the base and the vehicle to an infinite distance.
The result of this is that a vehicle licensed in one area can sit in another many miles away and wait for bookings to come to them. This is great news for the owner of a company who can now spread its business model far and wide with greater income generated by all the extra drivers who pay for renting the equipment from them, but not for the drivers licensed locally who have undertaken and passed the requirements necessary to work in that area including the vehicle criteria. This also has an issue for the authority in that area to regulate the industry. This leaves one authority receiving the income while another deals with issues.
It is my belief that the LGMPA 1976 intended that each area had Operators, Drivers and Vehicles working in that area and not working anywhere they chose.
Argument has been that it does not state in the Act that drivers have to be in their own area to receive a booking before setting off to complete the request, but it does not state that they do not have to be either.
What is does state, is that each area can set its own conditions that are reasonable, so a driver who is licensed in one area and working in another is not in fact working in that area under conditions as the authority deemed to be reasonable, therefore not legally working in that area.
A test case is not necessary to resolve this if all authorities agree to the basics of what is explained. It can simply be put to the six groups who are working to solve the issues of the trade for them to take forward. Technology changed the borders, not the intention of the 76 Act.
I think, and believe that an intended use policy on vehicles would solve this issue regardless of it involving cities and or rural areas.
Most drivers circumvent the local requirements because the tests needed to pass in another area are much easier, therefore I strongly suggest that each area adopts the following requirements as a standard for the trade. The vehicle is simply the tool that is used to conduct business and can be kept to each area’s needs and economic requirements.
Driver requirements should be as follows:
o Enhanced DBS check
o Driving Standards test
o Local knowledge test
o NVQ or BTEC Professional Taxi & Private Hire Driver Qualification
o Group 2 Medical
o Proof of eligibility to work within the UK
o English Language Test to level CEFR C1 minimum
o Maths Test to level OCR Functional Skills minimum
Vehicle requirements should all have:
• Intended use policy
The Deregulation Act 2015 is probably one of the most bizarre and unfathomable Acts to ever have been brought to force. It totally undermined the local authority’s ability to control the vehicles operating within their area while at the same time, by the use of technology, saturate areas with drivers from elsewhere.
If we are all honest about the Taxi and PHV clauses in this Act, they were rushed in and pushed through for the benefit of the owners of large companies to expand at the expense of the Private Hire drivers who are trying to earn a living.
These Private Hire drivers have overheads that are by far greater in percentage of takings than many other self-employed individuals, but require an operator to earn those takings and of course a living.
Again, I will break down this Act and what it achieved, or aimed to achieve.
The Act raised the duration of licences for drivers to three years.
It raised the Operators’ licences to five years.
Each license is based on proving that the person is ‘fit and proper’ so why is an operator deemed less likely to not be fit and proper and therefore allowed a five-year licence when an Operator could break the law and subsequently every driver working for them also be breaking the law unknowingly. No, I cannot understand that myself either, unless of course it was operators who had the MP’s ear that suggested this when it was pushed into the Bill with little or no consultation. But then again, that would explain the next part of the Deregulation Act and that is sub-contracting.
Before this Act, it was legal for a company to take a booking and if sub-contract it to another company within the same authority. This was and still is common practice; a company takes a booking and for any reason does not have a vehicle available to complete that booking as contractually obliged to do, they ask another company if they are able to cover it, ensuring the customer is satisfied and taken to their destination as requested.
What this Act did, was allow a company in one area to sub-contract a booking to a company in another area, which is fine, apart from a loophole that has emerged, or made.
To explain this loophole, I will use two imaginary areas as reference, those being Narnia and Lilliput.
A customer requests a vehicle to collect them from the city centre of Narnia from a Narnia licensed Operator that trades under the name of All Carz. The Operator All Carz also has an Operator’s licence in Lilliput.
The vehicle that is first in the queue to receive a booking in the city centre of Narnia is in fact a vehicle and driver licensed by Lilliput who is sat next to a driver working for All Carz who is licensed by Narnia.
With the magic of technology the booking that was accepted by All Carz of Narnia is put into the computer and the computer recognises that a vehicle from Lilliput is the first vehicle in the city centre and therefore diverts (sub-contracts) that booking to City Carz in Lilliput to despatch the Lilliput vehicle sat in Narnia’s City centre, leaving the Narnia vehicle sat waiting for a booking.
We know that a recent case regarding the iCabbi system, the judge declared that nothing was illegal with this action, but if we are all honest with each other, this was never a sub-contracted booking as the Deregulation Act suggested, it was a simple loophole exploited because the people who write these updates simply do not know the industry and the way it works.
The real intention of the Deregulation Act or at least should have been, is that a customer can call its local company when the customer was out of area to trust that company in sourcing a legitimate operator to complete the journey that the customer requested when the customer was not in their local area. Or, a resident of Narnia while staying in Lilliput could call the Narnia Company that they trusted to sub-contract the request to a Lilliput company that the Narnia Company worked closely with. Easy, straight forward and understood by the public.
The Deregulation Act is actually a very apt name, because this Act has actually taken the industry back to pre-1976 when Private Hire was not regulated.
Cross Border Hiring
Cross border hiring had an urban myth surrounding it, and that was if the customer was in another licensing area then the company could not take the booking unless it was coming back into that company’s licensing area. The truth is, that if the request stayed out of area then it was not financially viable to send a vehicle to complete the request.
Of course, another factor that supported this was communication between the company and the vehicle due to radio signals, but technology changed that.
Cross border hiring is in fact a valuable part of the industry, most importantly in rural areas where a company can be based closer to a town, village or railway station in another district than the nearest company licensed in that district, therefore being the physically nearest and most efficient service to that location. This is something that has to be taken seriouslywhen and if all this is actually discussed and rectified for the trade to stabilise again.
The issue with Cross Border hiring is the combination of Remote Licensing and Deregulation.
Cross Border hiring can be beneficial to the public in the right area and the correct conditions such as more rural areas, however in cities it is perhaps the most talked about, frustrating and volatile situation that the trade has.
For a driver to be licensed in Lilliput and work all day, week, month or year in Narnia is a blatant circumvention of local conditions and authority, and that’s what is killing this trade today, a trade that has for many years served the public well and safely.
Cross Border hiring is not the real issue, it is how those drivers work across the border that is the issue, and that truly is for the safety of the public and the chance of prosperity for the driver.
I trust that anyone who is still reading has a true sense of care and due diligence for this trade, and I thank you for your time.
What this industry needs from the six groups is a show of unity from the authorities’ officers, its councillors on the committees that oversee each local authority and its drivers, and the MP’s who represent each area, regardless of the party that they are associated with this is after all for the safety of the public across the land.
Show your support in what I have put forward, ask for a group to be formed that is a single group with a single goal, bringing the knowledge and experience of the trade to combine with the knowledge and experience of the law makers to finally complete what is required of this trades’ regulation to continue to provide a safe and secure network of transport for the public.
Could every person in the Licensing department, the councillors that are on the committee for licensing and any MP that wishes to support this document, please fill in the details below (this is the only editable part of the document) and return to email@example.com as an individual email from each person who signs in support.
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I thank you all for your time and support in this matter, andtrust it has not been wasted.