South Staffordshire Council is considering handing over taxi licensing functions to a neighbouring authority in a move that is claimed could cut costs and improve public safety.
Stourbridge News reports that councillors and officers from the district authority have met with City of Wolverhampton Council to discuss the transfer, a report has revealed.
If the delegation of hackney carriage and private hire vehicle licensing to the city council is approved it could be for an initial period of three years.
Members of South Staffordshire Council’s Regulatory and Licensing Committee were due to discuss the proposals at a meeting on Thursday September 16.
They went into a private session before considering the move, but the report was available for public view ahead of the meeting.
It said the benefits of delegating taxi licensing functions to City of Wolverhampton Council include greater choice for the trade in terms of garages, medical practitioners and online applications, as well as boosting public safety through tighter standards and improved enforcement activity. The move could also reduce licensing costs for the trade and council costs, the report added.
It said: “The taxi market is undergoing significant change in the same way that licensing authorities are. This has been further accelerated through the Covid pandemic.
“The key challenges (include) the need for greater enforcement resources to be devoted to taxi licensing as a result of various investigations into child sexual exploitation.
“App-based booking systems, supported by case law, make the traditional view of a private hire operator in an office with a phone located within the boundary of the licensing authority outdated.
“SSDC (South Staffordshire Council) faces the same financial challenges that all public sector organisations are facing in trying to achieve a balanced budget and financial stability through its Medium-Term Financial Strategy.
“The Covid pandemic has forced the way we do business with the trade to find on-line rather than face to face solutions to processing applications for licences. It has also created additional urgency in reducing the financial burdens on both the Council and the taxi trade.
“City of Wolverhampton Council (CWC) has embraced and dealt with these changes. The level of process change and investment by CWC, embracing new technology for service delivery taking into account the new technology used by the taxi trade, along with a robust approach to compliance and enforcement is impressive.
“Members and officers have met with CWC and it was decided to explore the opportunity for joint working.”
In recent years South Staffordshire Council has seen a reduction in income from taxi licensing. Although income this year is currently estimated to be higher than 2020/21 declines are expected in the coming years.
The report said: “The council has been struggling to balance income and expenditure on taxi licensing for the last five years, and this will increasingly become more difficult with a balance shortfall of £25,000 expected by 2023.
“The council will lose its income stream from taxi licensing fees if we enter into the agreement with CWC. For 20/21 this is budgeted at £60k. As indirect costs are inflexible in the short term and as it is anticipated that direct costs will be redeployed to support environmental health work, then the council faces a situation where potentially it loses £60K income but keeps all the cost.
“Staffing will be retained in order to continue to meet statutory targets for the wider environmental health team. Redeployment of resources is crucial to supporting administration and electronic filing systems in the service on a long term basis.
“There are however a number of matters that CWC need to deliver from SSDC premises and using SSDC staff including room hire, training, organising and servicing committee hearings, contract management and reporting. Facility will be made within the proposed transfer agreement for CWC to purchase services from the council to the value of approximately £60K per annum for three years
“There will therefore be no net cost of the transfer to CWC.”
In a major setback to rogue minicab firms nationwide, an Employment Tribunal has ruled that private hire drivers at Northampton-based Bounds Taxis are workers.
In a case brought by Shafqat Shah and Samue Adjei and backed by the App Drivers & Couriers Union, the Employment Tribunal has confirmed that Bounds Taxis must respect the right of drivers to earn at least the minimum wage, holiday pay and be protected from discrimination.
Employment Judge Postle ruled that Bounds drivers are ‘workers without doubt’.
Bounds has for years operated a business model which insists that drivers are self-employed, yet drivers were subject to intense micro management and a harsh disciplinary process.
Drivers were required to wear a Bounds uniform under threat of suspension if they did not do so. They were penalised if they missed or refused a job dispatched by app.
Commenting on this regime of misclassification the Judge noted in his ruling: "It is clear from the factual basis that each driver had no choice, that was imposed upon them by the Respondents no doubt to avoid any potential employer-employee obligations."
Bounds required their driver workforce to pay the company £9,000 in ‘rent’ with no guarantees about how much work, if any, they might receive. The Judge found that ‘rent’ was collected weekly and if drivers were late with payment they were ‘fined’ £10 per day by management.
In a withering assessment of the evidence presented at the Employment Tribunal by Bounds the judge remarked in his ruling: "Their evidence was largely unhelpful, disingenuous and evasive on occasions."
Despite its terrible treatment of the local workforce Bounds boast on their website of being "Northampton’s biggest and most professional private hire and taxi service, serving local customers including Northampton Social Services, Moulton college and many local schools."
Shaqat Shah, Chair of ADCU Northampton and claimant in the case said: “I am so pleased and relieved that Bounds drivers are now finally recognised as the workers we always were. The era of brutal exploitation in the local minicab trade must come to an end but Northampton City Council, which both licenses Bounds and uses its services, must no longer turn a blind eye to the abuse that has gone on for too long.”
Yaseen Aslam, President of ADCU said: “This case once again proves that the problem of worker abuse in the private hire sector is widespread and deeply rooted in an industry that employs more than 250,000 people nationwide.
"The ADCU will not hesitate to protect our members wherever they may be and there will be plenty more similar cases to come. If the government will not enforce the law to protect the most vulnerable workers in this trade, then we will.”
Uber is hoping to recruit 500 more taxi drivers in Merseyside to meet growing rider demand as cities open up across the UK following the pandemic.
The Liverpool Echo reports that it's part of a nationwide recruitment drive by the cab-hailing service to sign up a further 20,000 drivers as demand for rides continues to ramp up.
Since changes in the law were introduced, all Uber drivers are now entitled to at least the National Living Wage - though many can and do earn more.
Drivers with Uber can also receive a range of extra benefits, which are not on any other ride hailing app. These include an additional 20% of their earnings in holiday pay and a pension, parental leave payments, sickness and injury cover, and union representation by the GMB.
Ash Kebriti, general manager for the UK and Ireland, Uber, said: "As the UK has opened up, demand for Uber rides has soared, meaning that we need more drivers on the road.
"In Merseyside, we’ve seen a 6% increase in demand since before the lockdown as people go back to work, restaurants and bars.
"There’s not been a better time to sign up, especially as we’re the only operator to provide all drivers with holiday pay and, where eligible, enrolment in a pension scheme."
London private hire and courier firm, Addison Lee, has pledged to convert its whole passenger car fleet to electric vehicles by 2023.
While the company's website says it has over 4,800 cars operating in the UK capital, its recent acquisition of black cab service, ComCab, will make it the largest taxi company in London with over 7,000 vehicles.
It already has 650 zero-emission vehicles in its fleet after the acquisition, but to be able to fully switch over to electric, it has teamed up with Volkswagen.
According to engadget, Addison Lee is investing £160 million to replace its existing fleet with slightly larger Volswagen ID.4 vehicles. The standard ID.4 has a 77 kWh lithium-ion battery pack and has range of 250 miles, making it more suitable for city use than for long-distance driving.
It is capable of 201 horsepower and 229 pound-feet of torque, with speeds reaching 100mph.
The firm will start by rolling out 450 EVs by the end of 2021, presumably in addition to the 650 electric cars it already has.
Then, the company plans to add 200 electric cars per month until its whole fleet has been replaced within a couple of years.
The firm also plans to set up charging infrastructure for its drivers using the new £3.5 million Future Mobility Fund it has established.
If the company succeeds in transitioning to electric by 2023, it'll be ahead of its competitors, such as Uber, which previously pledged to replace its existing fleet with EVs by 2025.
It also means up to 20,000 zero-emission trips each day in London, which will help the government achieve its goal of a net zero economy by 2050.
Preston City Council has invited residents to have their say on new taxi and private hire licensing policies.
According to Blog Preston, the council have launched a consultation on new draft policies to licence and regulate taxi and private hire vehicles, drivers and operators.
The review of existing policies and procedures responds to government guidance issued last year called Statutory Taxi and Private Hire Vehicle Standards.
Councillor David Borrow, a cabinet member for planning and regulation, said: “The latest review of our policies will help us ensure that we are supporting the taxi and private hire trades and their passengers.
“We already have high standards in Preston, and many of the recommendations will only strengthen safeguarding measures for the benefit of drivers and passengers.
“I hope members of the public, as well as licence holders and other stakeholders, take the time to fill out the consultation questionnaire, the results of which will be considered as part of the decision-making process.”
Changes include regular DBS checks for drivers, vehicle proprietors and operators, along with improving ‘staying safe’ guidance for passengers.
The consultation is open for responses until 22 October 2021.
For more information, visit – https://www.preston.gov.uk/taxilicensingpolicyconsultation