|©Parliamentary copyright||Prepared 24th January 2011|
Issues relating to the licensing of taxis and private hire vehicles
House of COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE the
Tuesday 18 January 2011
Tommy McIntyre, John Neal, Mick Rix, Michael Hildreth and Gavin Sokhi
David B Wilson, Ian Shanks, Paul McLaughlin, Richard Jarman and John Griffin
Myles Bebbington, Damien Edwards, Councillor Cec Tallack and Philip Soderquest
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
Mrs Louise Ellman (Chair)
Mr John Leech
Witnesses: Tommy McIntyre, National Taxi Representative, Unite the Union, John Neal, Unite Transport Research, Mick Rix, National Officer, Commercial Services Sector, GMB, Michael Hildreth, Secretary, Professional Drivers Taxis & Private Hire, GMB, and Gavin Sokhi, Skyline Taxis, gave evidence.
Chair: Good morning, gentlemen, and welcome to this meeting of the Transport Select Committee. I would like to declare that I am a member of Unite. Are there any other declarations?
Gavin Shuker: Chair, I would like to declare that I am a member of Unite.
Kelvin Hopkins : I would like to declare that I am a member of the GMB.
Q1 Chair: I would like to ask you if you could identify yourselves. Could you just give your name and the organisation you are representing? This is for clarity of our records. Could I start at the end here?
Michael Hildreth: Michael Hildreth, GMB.
Mick Rix: Mick Rix, GMB.
John Neal: John Neal, Unite.
Tommy McIntyre: Tom McIntyre, Unite.
Gavin Sokhi: Gavin Sokhi, Skyline Taxis and Private Hire.
Q2 Chair: Thank you very much. We have a number of questions that we will put to you. In some cases, we may ask individual witnesses for their views. If anybody else wishes to speak, if you would just indicate, we will do our best to give everyone the opportunity to speak on all of the issues here. I would like to start off by asking the Unite representatives if you could explain the background to your campaign on crossborder hire. Could you tell the Committee, as briefly as you can, what the issues are and why you are involved in this? Mr McIntyre, would you like to start?
Tommy McIntyre: Certainly, Chair. It’s going to sound so simple. We want to change one line in a law, and it is as simple as that. People are making out that we are trying to stop freedom of choice for people who can ring for a cab and where they can ring for a cab from. Absolutely not. I make it clear at the outset that Unite is a union and our members have no problem whatsoever with people ringing for a cab from wherever they want. For argument’s sake, in Liverpool, if they decide they want to ring somebody in Milton Keynes and order a cab, that’s fine. That cab or private hire vehicle can come down and do the work. There’s absolutely no problem.
The problem is with vehicles waiting from adjacent areas, from areas or boroughs outside the city. It is as simple as that. What we are saying is that, if you order a cab, the cab can come along and pick you up. Cabs and private hire from outside the area should not sit in adjacent areas; it makes a farce of the whole laws. It makes one ask why we bother licensing locally. As far as we are concerned as a union, this is down to children and vulnerable adults. As it is now, people getting in a cab, for argument’s sake in London, would expect that that is a London cab they are getting into. I think that’s quite right myself. There should not be vehicles from adjacent areas sitting there. It is absolutely as simple as that, Chair.
Q3 Chair: Could you explain to us why that is a problem? We have Delta Taxis appearing before us later this morning. On your evidence, you are asking for their form of business in fact to be stopped or constrained in some way. I am asking why. We know what you want to achieve. It is clear in your evidence, but why?
Tommy McIntyre: Again, it is simple, Chair. Under section 37 of the 1847 Town Police Clauses Act, it makes it quite clear that a taxi can only ply for hire in its area. It makes it quite clear. The law states that.
Q4 Chair: But what is the problem?
Tommy McIntyre: The problem is just that, Chair. If you are licensed in an area, surely the people in that area believe that you are in that area when you are licensing or hiring the vehicle.
Q5 Chair: Could any witnesses perhaps amplify that? What is the problem about this?
Mick Rix: The problem we have is that where authorities are issuing licences for vehicles and drivers outside of their areas, with the recent case that has taken place, there is no enforcement on those people. That is the major problem that takes place. We need to completely understand that there are two distinct markets that take place within the taxi trade. There are people who are advocating plying for trade in areas where they are unlicensed, basically to move to a single-tier system, where there are two very distinct and separate markets.
All we are asking for is this. Since the 1976 Act was introduced, for 30 years there were very few problems of people plying for trade outside of the areas where they were licensed. In the last five years, there have been a number of authorities that are issuing licences from as far afield as Berwick in Northumberland to people that are in Paignton in Devon. With the best will in the world, there is no proper enforcement on those areas.
Q6 Chair: What is the impact of this lack of enforcement? Is it a problem for the consumer, for the passengers? Is it a problem for the companies and the drivers? What is the nature of the problem this is causing?
Mick Rix: If you cannot check the vehicles to ensure that they are the standard to which the authority says they are, that could lead to differences. Consumers will get a raw deal on that, and, basically, what is happening is that people are shopping around to lower standards within the trade, which is affecting consumers at the end of the day.
Chair: Lower standards.
Q7 Gavin Shuker: Although different licensing authorities, from the outset, look as though they would have similar standards that they would expect, could you explain briefly why those standards are not interchangeable? Can anyone on the panel help?
Michael Hildreth: Basically, each licensing authority can put in place conditions that they see fit that suit their area. That is why you have the differences all over the country.
Q8 Gavin Shuker: How vast are those differences, in your opinion?
Michael Hildreth: They are very vast.
Q9 Gavin Shuker: Could you give us an example?
Michael Hildreth: For example, in some areas you will have no vehicle age limits. In other areas, say, the area where I come from, which is Brighton, they will have age limits in place to maintain a high standard of vehicle.
Tommy McIntyre: Can I quote from a LACORS document that has just come out now? They had a board meeting on 4 December and their answer to this on crossborder hiring, in reply to what you say, was that, as a result of this problem of crossborder hiring, because some councils have lower standards and conditions-indeed, they don’t test the drivers and have lower licensing fees-they see that this is why there is a problem. Then they refer to the Department for Transport, saying that they have looked at the different standards and come out with a best practice. Unfortunately, the bottom line in it says that many councils have not followed the Department for Transport’s recommendations. So they see exactly what you are talking about.
Q10 Gavin Shuker: If those standards were enforced across every licensing authority, would you still have an issue with crossborder hiring, just to understand the scope of your complaint?
John Neal: Yes, I think so. Obviously, with regard to the travelling public, we are trying to establish whether there is a difference in standards with regard to health and safety concerns. But, to answer your question directly, for the trade, it is about establishing a fair playing field. Currently, what we hear from our members is that it’s not out there at the moment. You have the hackney carriage licensed taxi drivers, who’ve spent a lot of time getting the knowledge and things like that within their local area. Also, you have the additional private hire vehicle operators within a licensed area that are also having to compete, as the sort of problem we are proposing, with other private hire vehicle companies that are coming into their area. It wouldn’t just end there because we believe there should be a fair playing field.
Gavin Sokhi: I was just going to add on the knowledge test and local area knowledge that, if you are licensed outside that area, you have no local knowledge. The customer rings and expects you to have that. Again, you have different service levels and you end up having a two-tier system.
Mick Rix: There is one further point to follow on from that. Local authorities also want local transport plans. There could be a major effect on local transport plans and also on the type of vehicle that they may require to have in certain areas. It can have an enormous effect on certain parts of the population in terms of planning and what certain areas require in terms of vehicles.
Q11 Mr Leech: Mr McIntyre, I can understand your argument for wanting to make the change and, certainly, on the comment that Mr Rix made about Berwick Council licensing taxis that were operating in Paignton, clearly that is ridiculous and the enforcement of those taxis would be incredibly difficult. But in certain areas, and I will use my own constituency as an example, my constituency borders both Stockport on one side and Trafford on the other side, and there are private hire operators who are based in Manchester but incredibly close to the border with Stockport or the border with Trafford on the other side. Surely, in terms of customers who might live on the Stockport side of the border as opposed to the Manchester side of the border, they may be disadvantaged in certain circumstances if a taxi base is very close to their house but on the wrong side of the border. Wouldn’t it be better to have an area within which a base could operate as opposed to necessarily just the local authority?
Tommy McIntyre: I suppose then we would just move from an area to a bigger area. Wouldn’t we just be moving the problem out? Any reputable big firm you are talking about operates the way we are talking about. They actually remove the cars. If you order, like you say, in Stockport, that kind of thing, they can go across that area quite quickly and pick up a fare after you have rung up. There is no big and cumbersome thing over the fact that they are going to do it. We are arguing that it is quite within their rights to do it, but the vehicle from another area should not be sitting there waiting for that job. That is all. A hackney carriage can’t do it, never has been able to do it, and there’s never been a problem with that. Hackneys accept the fact that once you’ve dropped the job off you return to your area of licence unless you get another job while you’re there. If you get another radio job, you can pick the other radio job up. That’s no problem. Do you see what I am saying? All we are saying is that the vehicles should not sit outside their area. Where the actual firm works, where they cover, where they canvass and that kind of thing, they can do all that; we have no problem with any of that. It is just the fact that the vehicles are sitting outside their area and, by virtue of the very fact that they sit outside their area people, believe that they are there for immediate hire.
Q12 Mr Leech: Would you accept that there is a big difference between a licensing authority in the north-east licensing private hire vehicles operating in the south-west, as opposed to my constituency where one side of the road is in another authority, and a vehicle wouldn’t be allowed to be parked on one side of the road but would be allowed to be parked on the Manchester side of the road? Surely there has to be a compromise position for situations where operators are right on the border of local authority operations.
Tommy McIntyre: What you have just explained is that, because what you are talking about has been going on in a local way, it has spread, though, hasn’t it, to exactly what you say, to the BerwickuponTweed and the Stockton scenario? They’ve expanded it, haven’t they, and they’ve made a farce of the whole thing?
Q13 Mr Leech: That is why I am asking whether there would be a compromise position whereby, hypothetically, an operator who is licensed in Manchester would only be able to operate within a certain distance from where that base is, and if that crossed a border they would be allowed to sit across that border but they wouldn’t be allowed to go and work in Paignton, for instance.
Mick Rix: The problem that exists in what you are trying to reasonably explain could be a situation that came up in the recent case of Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council v Fidler, which ruled that the local enforcement authority where the enforcement takes place, where another vehicle and driver from another area were plying for trade in that area, could not enforce the standards that were applicable to that area. So, yes, it can take place because the courts have ruled that it can take place, but the anomaly now is that the local enforcement authorities cannot enforce the standards that apply for that place. There is a lowering of standards that the local enforcement authorities can do nothing about. That is the problem which may go some way to explain why we may have some antipathy towards the point that you may be making, because there could be lower standard vehicles coming into that area.
Q14 Mr Leech: Would you accept that, if we overcome the issue of the enforcement, having a local area in which a private hire operator could operate would be a reasonable compromise, if we could get the enforcement right?
Mick Rix: I would say at the moment I have a degree of scepticism about that because of what is currently taking place. However, I have always got an open mind and obviously changes have been mooted in the recent months about authorities merging and departments merging within authorities, creating larger areas. I suppose, from what you were describing, it could be possible, but there would have to be really stringent enforcement and people need to have that power to carry out those enforcements, which currently, it has been ruled, they can’t.
Q15 Chair: You would see that as a possibility but the enforcement issue is the key point there.
Mick Rix: Yes.
Q16 Iain Stewart: Is the issue we are considering simply one of particular firms seeking to exploit differences between local authorities in terms of price difference and enforcement standards, or have you uncovered any evidence that suggests that local authorities themselves are deliberately setting lower tariffs or standards in the hope of attracting firms particularly to register with them rather than their natural local authority?
Gavin Sokhi: In Milton Keynes-it is slightly different to up north, Newcastle and whatnot. We have the trade in Milton Keynes, and drivers from other licensing authorities are being licensed at lesser standards and then working in Milton Keynes. It only happens because the local dialling code stretches further than the boundary.
Back to Mr Leech’s point, your merging idea is great, but from our point of view we are in the same boat already. They are travelling in, doing their journeys, and hanging around town. Taxi enforcement cannot enforce drivers from other authorities. So we end up paying more money to enforce them or trying to enforce those drivers. Even if, for example, a driver is found plying for hire, the local authority never gets back the full cost of taking that driver to court. In turn, this puts up our costs, while these other operators carry on working for free.
Q17 Iain Stewart: Forgive me, I perhaps did not express my question clearly. I am trying to establish whether local authorities are an innocent bystander in this. They have set their tariffs for their own area without any deliberate attempt to say, "If our fees were 20% lower than the neighbouring authority, we would get a whole load of extra income." Is there any evidence that local authorities themselves are attempting to pinch different trade and then we would have a lowering of standards and costs?
Michael Hildreth: We have evidence of one licensing authority down in the south of England, where I am from, Wealden licensing authority, and through a Freedom of Information request we found out that they are licensing eight or nine different companies in different authorities all within the southern region. Obviously, by doing that they have no controls; they don’t go and check these people. The worst case is in Haywards Heath where they have issued a private hire operator’s licence to a private hire company that operates out of the station. You have two examples of hackney carriages at this station licensed by Mid Sussex and private hire vehicles licensed by Wealden. I suppose, for want of a better expression, they have used it as a cash cow to raise money for their authority without being able to check that everything is okay.
Q18 Iain Stewart: May I just follow that up? Do you believe that is an isolated example or have you a concern that it might be more widespread?
Michael Hildreth: That is one example. There is the famous example of Berwick, where they again licensed vehicles that operate quite a long way away from home, i.e. the north-east, and, again, there are no checks. It was a cash cow again. I think at the height they licensed 750 hackneys, of which, I believe, about 80 worked in Berwick and all the rest worked around the country. Credit to Northumberland-I think they have got it down to about 50% of that figure now-but Berwick were another example that were issuing licences without taking responsibility for the controls of those vehicles.
Q19 Chair: Are Northumberland County Council dealing with this problem now? It is a unitary authority, isn’t it?
Michael Hildreth: I understand that they are. I had a quick read of their report and, like I said, it is due credit to Northumberland that they have reduced the number of hackneys from a figure at one time of 700 down to about 350 at the moment. Hopefully, they are on the right track to taking them back into their own area and controlling their own area.
Q20 Julian Sturdy: First, can I follow up on some questions Mr Stewart asked? You have highlighted certain areas in the written evidence given to the Committee already where the issue is arising. Is this happening in a handful of areas that you have highlighted or do you believe that it is widespread across the country but it just isn’t coming to the fore? I am one of the MPs for York, which is a small unitary authority, and so it is a small licensing area. Certainly I have not had it brought to my attention in my area where, as I say, we are a small licensing area surrounded by other licensing areas. Is there any other evidence from other areas?
Michael Hildreth: We have put forward the ones we know of to the Committee. I think that the issue here is that, if nothing is done, this could be repeated all over the country. It needs to be changed, otherwise you could have authorities issuing hackney plates all over the country and then we will be in a right old mess, basically.
Mick Rix: The point that we were making is that for 30 years of the Act most of the authorities were acting in a very reasonable and respectable way, carrying out the spirit of the 1976 Act. There were one or two problems within that period of time, but mainly these problems have begun to surface in the last five years within certain specific areas.
Q21 Julian Sturdy: Thank you for that. This follows on a little bit from what Mr Leech was asking earlier on as well. Given the area I represent, which is a small area, we get a lot of people who will be getting taxis in my authority but travelling outside. Is the problem that, if those taxis travel outside of one area, they are looking for a return fare?
Mick Rix: There is nothing wrong with a taxi working crossborder with a fare and there is nothing wrong with having a prebooked fare coming back.
Q22 Julian Sturdy: I understand what you are saying about a prebooked fare, but, if it is not prebooked and they are looking for a return fare because they have travelled quite a distance outside their licensing area, which in London and the bigger suburban areas isn’t potentially a problem because you have a much bigger licensing area, in a small licensing area there might be an issue. Do you think that is potentially a problem?
Mick Rix: The main problem is when someone is spending many hours in that other area for which they are not licensed, plying for trade. That is where the problem is.
Q23 Chair: Is this an issue for private hire that you are talking about rather than hackney carriages?
Mick Rix: Yes.
Tommy McIntyre: As I replied earlier on, Chair, hackneys now and always have had to return across to their area of licence, so they don’t sit outside their area. They know quite well that, if they do, they will be summonsed for doing just that. In reply to the question you asked about whether it is isolated or not, here are all the replies that MPs returned to Unite the Union, saying that their constituents are having exactly the same problem as we are having.
Q24 Julian Sturdy: So you have evidence to say it is widespread?
Tommy McIntyre: I am quite happy to leave them with the Committee. They are all replies from individual MPs saying, "What more can we do to help?"
Q25 Kelvin Hopkins : As my colleague, Gavin Shuker, said earlier on, one approach would be to have rigorous national standards, so that there wouldn’t be a question of different standards in different authorities, which seems a sensible way forward. The other thing, again, is that, having larger licensing areas and a consortia of local authorities, the overwhelming majority of journeys would then be within that area, so you would not be crossing borders and you could then have a restriction on picking up cab fares outside that area because it would only affect a very small number of journeys. The great majority would be within that area, particularly in the big conurbations. Even in my own local area, in Luton and Dunstable, they are a contiguous conurbation but one is in Central Bedfordshire and one is in Luton Borough. That, logically, should be one area. Those approaches seem to me to be sensible and I wondered if you wanted to expand a bit more on those possibilities.
Tommy McIntyre: The GMB replied before and we would back them totally on the fact that we will talk to anybody over anything on it. Everybody doesn’t have all the good ideas, do they? The problem, as we said earlier on with what has gone on in Berwick, is that it has just become absolutely ludicrous now. The only people who are making money now are lawyers, who will say to anybody, "Let’s take them to court on it." What we are saying is: can we just change one simple thing about the return to your area?
It is actually in statute law in Scotland now. In the 1982 Civic Government Act, it states that a private hire in that area must return to its area of licence. I don’t know any big problems they have had with that. I can accept the fact, Chair, if we look at the real world and we realise that if what we are saying is so bad, then the courts are going to be overrun with people being taken to court and so on. Could we at this stage suggest more of a spot fine for this kind of thing? I realise, although it is an awful lot to my members, it really isn’t in the court system. In the big scheme of things, it’s not that much. If we could come up with something where we could turn round and say there would be an unlimited fine and that fine was to go to the council for looking after what was going on, I think they would control their areas then.
Again, if I could refer back to that LACORS document, they have actually been doing this now. The local councils authority, I think it is, isn’t it, who look after LACORS, have been promoting this in regard to smoking and that kind of thing in the last few years, rather than it going to court? They reckon that would be a way forward. They suggest that in their document, which again I would be quite happy to leave for the Committee.
Q26 Paul Maynard: You have mentioned that, clearly, your members are disquieted about these circumstances. Can you just give an indication of what the impact of the changes and the competition has been on your members’ earnings within, say, Liverpool City or Milton Keynes, and the impact on their earning levels? What have the financial and numerical consequences been? Also, Mr Rix, you mentioned earlier that it meant a raw deal for consumers. Could you expand on that a little in what way it represents a raw deal?
Mick Rix: First, I was talking in terms of where people were being licensed from other areas and plying for their trade in another area where they had higher standards, vehicle checks, or the age of the vehicle and things like that. They are done for very specific reasons, because local authorities attract people into their towns and cities for various reasons and they have local transport plans. Of course, good authorities insist on the age and the roadworthiness of vehicles, because if you want to attract people coming into towns and cities then the consumer should have that good deal. I am aware we have people shopping around to lower standards. That is where the consumer will, unknowingly, be getting into a taxi that they think is licensed in their area and will have those standards, and yet it will not. Yet they may be paying the same price for catching that cab at the same tariffs that apply to the area that they are not licensed from. That is where people are getting a raw deal. It is a very wrong option and it is an abuse that needs to be stopped.
Q27 Paul Maynard: What are the financial consequences for the hackney carriage drivers?
Gavin Sokhi: With regard to private hire drivers in Milton Keynes, our drivers generally go out to earn £100 to £150 a day. They can make a good living and pay their costs. If we say we have around 350 to 400 drivers working crossborder licensing in South Northants Council, working in Milton Keynes, they are, on average, taking £10 million a year from Milton Keynes trade and paying nothing towards the trade. So that is £10 million straight out of the pocket of local drivers who are licensed in Milton Keynes.
If you then look at it from the council’s point of view, they are having to enforce these drivers at a cost, which pushes our costs up, but they are also losing out on the revenue gained by licensing these drivers, which equates to around £100,000 to £150,000 a year. We have been charged more by the council, so that they can enforce other drivers, whereas if they were receiving this revenue standards could be increased further. Again, it goes back to the fact that people coming to Milton Keynes expect a certain service. It goes with the image of the city and we can keep that image and standard high, whereas, attracting in other authorities’ drivers, people presume it is a Milton Keynes car. When it comes down to complaints, they complain to Milton Keynes Council. Milton Keynes Council then have to pass it on and forward it on to the next authority.
Q28 Paul Maynard: If we were to take Liverpool as an example, has the number of hackney carriage drivers declined?
Tommy McIntyre: No, but can I refer back again to the LACORS document? They looked at this and said that the amount of hours drivers are having to drive is now becoming unacceptable. What you are saying is, "Have your wages gone down?" What happens in the cab and private hire trade is that, if your wages go down, you have to work more hours.
Q29 Paul Maynard: Has it reached a point where people are leaving the industry yet?
Tommy McIntyre: That’s a difficult one because where do they go? Most of these people are unskilled; they are cab drivers. It’s not as though there is-
Q30 Paul Maynard: I accept there is a separate argument about their skill levels, but have any hackney carriage drivers in Liverpool stopped working as hackney carriage drivers on account of this structural problem?
Tommy McIntyre: No, but what I am saying to you is the fact that what happens is the driver remains doing the job, but in this case they quote a driver who, after working 14 hours, killed a pedestrian by falling asleep at the wheel. Is this what we want to happen? That’s what I am saying. They don’t go away; what actually happens is we have to work more hours. It’s the old analogy of the pie, isn’t it? There are only so many pieces of the pie.
Q31 Paul Maynard: Playing devil’s advocate, how would you respond to the accusation that it is all about a dispute between hackney carriage drivers and the private hire market, because you are offering two very different products, as I understand it, given the investment hackney carriage drivers have to make, yet the public might not appreciate that difference?
Tommy McIntyre: Good God, absolutely not. Let me make it perfectly clear now. I negotiate in an awful lot of places in this country for fares and what we will set for the tariff. I would never like to go in there just as the union rep for the cabs. We complement one another-what private hire charge and what the hackney charge. If that was to go away, I think that would be really detrimental. You see where I am coming from? I actually think we keep the fares down because we work well together that way.
Q32 Chair: Mr Sokhi, did you want to come in on this?
Gavin Sokhi: No.
Q33 Kwasi Kwarteng: I have looked through your written evidence and, sure, I think there should be national standards applied; I completely understand that argument. But the word that comes across a lot in this is the "low" standards, yet there is no real description of what these "low" standards are. Could you give me a bit more colour on that, perhaps, Mr Rix?
Mick Rix: When we were talking about standards, we were referring to vehicles. Certain authorities will set certain standards for their vehicles, and it could be on age. Some authorities may not be as stringent on some of those because of the different market that they may be in. It could be very much of a rural or semirural area, so it may be that other people may be doing other things within their trade.
The point that we are making is that people are circumventing the current licensing authority in which they are plying their trade and getting a licence from elsewhere. They can get a lower standard vehicle, which impacts on to the local areas where they may have higher standards-they may have had to pay more money for a plate and there may be more stringent requirements as well in keeping that licence-and someone is coming from another area, on a lower standard, plying for trade in that area.
Q34 Kwasi Kwarteng: When you are talking about standards, you are talking about the standard of the vehicle?
Mick Rix: Vehicles, and it could also be the knowledge that the driver is required to have.
Q35 Kwasi Kwarteng: So it is a general thing.
Mick Rix: There are numerous issues. It could be the knowledge that the driver has to have and it is also the standard of the vehicle as well.
Q36 Mr Leech: I just want to come back to Mr McIntyre again. I am sorry if I come across as picking on you.
Tommy McIntyre: I’m big enough.
Mr Leech: Is your proposed change enforceable, because my understanding-and please correct me if I am wrong-is that, if a private hire driver takes someone from Manchester over the border to Stockport and then there is another job coming back from Stockport to Manchester, under your proposal that driver would have to go back to Manchester before going back to Stockport? Is that correct?
Tommy McIntyre: No, absolutely not.
Q37 Mr Leech: Can you explain how it would work then, please?
Tommy McIntyre : Absolutely.
Q38 Chair: Yes, please. In that situation, how would your proposal actually work in practice?
Tommy McIntyre: All we are saying is that that vehicle shouldn’t stop there. I have tried to say from day one that we are not trying to restrict the travelling public. My wife or anybody else’s wife can order a cab from wherever they want to. For argument’s sake, if I was in Liverpool and I am dropping off in Manchester, if I haven’t got a fare, then I would have to return back. But if, while I was going to Manchester, over the radio system I got another job, fine; there is absolutely no problem with that. What we are talking about is the guy or the girl, when they have finished doing the job, sitting in a neighbouring borough, in some cases for several hours.
Q39 Mr Leech: That’s the issue about whether or not it is enforceable. How do you prove that Mr X has taken a job from Manchester to Stockport and he just happens to be waiting for the next fare which isn’t for another 10 minutes, so he is just waiting on the street for that next fare back? How do you actually enforce that change?
Tommy McIntyre: It’s so simple now with the event of satnavs and the way satellites work these days. All the data heads in a cab or private hire vehicle show where that vehicle was sent to and, indeed, will show if he is booked to do anything else. All licensing officers are trained to be able to get in that vehicle and read that machine. That is exactly where it would come from. An enforcement officer would look in and say, "You are sitting here. You have been here for half an hour or whatever. You haven’t got a job. Why are you sitting here?"
Q40 Mr Leech: The answer could be, "Well, I am actually on my break. I just happen to be here on my break."
Tommy McIntyre: "Take your break in your own area", I would have said.
Gavin Sokhi: From an operator’s point of view, we track our drivers. Every piece of information from when they have received the job, picked up the job and cleared it with the customer, to the time they are sitting waiting for the next job is logged. You find 90% of companies nowadays use similar systems and the local enforcement officers are well aware of which systems and software packages we use. They come in. If they are checking on drivers, for example, if they believe they have been plying for hire, they ask for their records; they ask for a detailed report. We can give them GPS maps, etc., etc. From that point of view, it can be enforced because they can request it, receive it on email and view it in a few minutes.
Mick Rix: I think the point you are driving at is this. Could it be seen as right to stop any unscrupulous act that an individual might make? The answer is probably not. But the issue here is, if it was possible to enforce, at the moment, because of the Stockton case, the enforcement officers in that local area can have no impact on drivers licensed outside of that area. That is one of the things that has to change. Perhaps one of the other issues that has to change is to look at some form of national standard of training and qualification for enforcement officers, so that there can be some greater understanding within these areas.
Q41 Mr Leech: What impact would this proposed change in legislation have on the cost of enforcement? Would enforcement costs increase?
Tommy McIntyre: No, they would actually decrease.
Q42 Mr Leech: Why is that?
Tommy McIntyre: Let’s take Liverpool again. The Chair mentioned a particular company earlier on. I won’t mention it but people know the company I would be referring to. In an open radio show with me they said that 55% of their work was in Liverpool, not in the area they are in. You can accept from that, if 55% of their work is in Liverpool, the licence enforcement teams in Liverpool are looking after a neighbouring borough’s cars. Do you understand what I mean? They are coming across the licensing in Sefton in this case and they are actually operating in Liverpool. They are not paying any money whatsoever towards the licensing regime in Liverpool, but our cabs in Liverpool have to pay the bill to foot their cars.
Michael Hildreth: Can I just say one thing when you are talking about costs? As you probably know, the taxi industry is selffinancing and ringfenced, so the good news would be that the costs would come back into the taxi trade.
Q43 Mr Leech: I was going to make that point actually. But coming on to my last question, is there an argument, therefore, to say that if you pick up jobs in different authorities you should be licensed in all those authorities that you pick up jobs from?
Mick Rix: We would argue that, because of the point we are making, where people are plying for trade for the major part of their working time, then, yes, they should have a licence for that area they are working in to stop some of these anomalies. The thing that we would like to see is standards being driven upwards, because at the end of the day if standards are increased and driven upwards then the consumer gets the benefit of that.
There is an image about the trade and people do not often talk about the trade itself. This is a very important trade. A lot of people earn their living from it and the fact of the matter is that we don’t want a bad image because that will drive people away from using the trade. It is important that there are good standards and it is important that there are applicable and enforceable standards to stop some of these abuses.
With a few of the anomalies that are taking place where people are circumventing it, it is very easy to get back to the situation where we were five years ago where most people were trying to do things on a proper level playing field and dealing with the two distinct markets within the trade in a fair and reasonable manner. But the point that we have made about empowering and training enforcement officers on some form of national standard will be of great benefit to the trade and everyone.
Q44 Kwasi Kwarteng: From my point of view I am just interested in the point of view of the consumer. Obviously you have your own interests and you are looking after your own members, but as far as the consumer is concerned how is he or she going to benefit from what you call the raising of standards? What is going to happen in the future that is not happening now, or what more is going to happen in the future that is not happening now under the regime that you propose? I am not sure in my own head how this new world that you picture is going to be different from what we have now.
Chair: What are the benefits to the consumer?
Mick Rix: The issue that we were describing is that in a lot of authorities at this moment in time licences are being issued in the correct and proper manner. Also, local authorities set local transport plans. Also, local authorities set standards for the knowledge of their drivers and also the standards of their vehicles. Some authorities don’t apply in a rigorous way some of those standards in all areas. If you have higher quality vehicles and better knowledge of drivers in that respect, then of course the consumer is going to benefit from that.
Q45 Kwasi Kwarteng: Just to boil down what you are saying, you are saying that as a consumer I am going to be more likely to get to where I want to because the driver has the knowledge and the car will be better, I will be more comfortable and I will have a better experience?
Mick Rix: You will have a better experience. It is not just representing the interests of our members. We want to attract people to use our trade.
Q46 Kwasi Kwarteng: You think more people will use the trade.
Mick Rix: I think a lot of people would feel more secure as well, yes.
Tommy McIntyre: Unite have been highly involved for some three years now in upskilling and training cab and private hire drivers in NVQ Level 2, and we believe this is paramount for our trade. They have gone from horse and cart, if you like, to these fantastic vehicles, but nobody bothered training the drivers because we are all selfemployed. But, luckily enough, with the help of the Government and the funding for it, we have upskilled ourselves. I think it is 3,700 now. Okay, the number throughout the country is fantastic, but it will be done and when you speak to the travelling public after drivers have been trained it’s very good to listen to.
Q47 Chair: But we are trying to identify how the change that you are proposing would improve experiences for the passengers.
Tommy McIntyre: In that area?
Q48 Chair: Anywhere.
Tommy McIntyre: The simple answer I would give to that would be the fact that the person would have the knowledge that in that area, "This is a local driver I am getting." This is a guy who would have been trained, as I say, in the knowledge.
Q49 Chair: But what assurance would there be that that would mean an improvement?
Q50 Kwasi Kwarteng: I am sorry, but can I just be a devil’s advocate? I use cabs all the time, certainly in my constituency, and I would not be able to tell you what make of car they were. Generally, I get to where I want to; generally, they use satnav. I wouldn’t be able to tell you where they were licensed. I just use a cab and I get from A to B, and that experience is pretty much the same every time I use it. When you say to us that this will be a much better experience, I am still trying to get my head round that. I am not denying what you are saying, but I am just trying to understand how a better trained car driver is going to make my experience better. That’s all I’m saying.
Tommy McIntyre: Could I just go on a bit with my answer? Our licensing officer is here so you will be able to ask him the same question later on, if he sees any difference. But certainly from our side, talking to people, they say, "It was brilliant. I got in the cab and the driver started talking about architecture and things like that", when they were going through the city. "Did you realise what this building was or what that building was?"
Kwasi Kwarteng: I travel at night.
Tommy McIntyre: They have lights on these buildings.
Chair: Can we keep the answers short?
Kwasi Kwarteng: I just want to get from A to B. I don’t really want an architectural experience.
Q51 Chair: Mr Sokhi, I think you want to come in, don’t you?
Gavin Sokhi: I just wanted to make the point on the knowledge. In Milton Keynes, obviously the test is on Milton Keynes and it is very strict, and if you fail your test you have to wait a certain period to retake it. If you get licensed in your neighbouring borough, in South Northants, they have a knowledge test of 12 questions on Towcester, which is 15 miles away from Milton Keynes. They have no knowledge of Milton Keynes. They are licensed there and then the very next day they are then working in Milton Keynes. If a local elderly customer says, "Take me down the road to Watling Vale Health Centre", they can punch that in the satnav, but there is no local knowledge there. Again, if that customer then wants to complain locally, they then push towards Northampton.
Q52 Iain Stewart: I would like to turn briefly to the enforcement point and particularly Mr Sokhi’s comment about the use of new technology, satnavs, to log journeys made. I am just wondering if a possible solution to this issue might be a requirement on firms to collate electronically the data of all the journeys that their drivers use, and if it is shown that a certain percentage of their business is outwith their home authority then there should be some requirement for them to pay an additional levy to those neighbouring authorities. I would just be interested in the panel’s views as to whether that might be a practical solution.
Gavin Sokhi: The main software companies are providing taxi companies like ourselves with software from which you can run any kind of report you like, from individual pickups to the zones you pick up from. You can find out anything, from percentages to how many people you picked up from Sainsbury’s today, to how many jobs you ran five minutes late on, for example. You can pull any type of report from the system; so those stats are easily available.
Q53 Iain Stewart: But at the moment that is just used from an operational point of view, I would imagine, by each firm. I am trying to work out if there was some statutory requirement for that data to be passed on. Is that a way of differentiating between firms which are actively registered in one authority and doing most of their business elsewhere, as opposed to other firms who would operate primarily in their own area and have a small percentage of journeys crossborder?
John Neal: It is a really interesting suggestion but it wouldn’t necessarily highlight the problem for the rest of the taxi trade. The information might be there from a company perspective on paying levies and distributing the money around perhaps in a more fair way for businesses, but it wouldn’t necessarily be there for workers in that way. It wouldn’t necessarily correct the unfairness within the market in terms of allowing one section of the taxi trade to compete in one way and the rest of the section to be regulated in another way. If you are going to be devil’s advocate to the whole thing, then you would let the taxi trades just go everywhere and you would have complete chaos, and the people who have the knowledge wouldn’t have to work within the regulation that they do. We wouldn’t want a system like that because it could introduce a lot of problems and increase problems with regard to a black market or something like that because it would throw the licensing scheme into chaos, I think.
Q54 Paul Maynard: I have listened very carefully and I just wonder whether any of you can answer this question. Why, when in the post-war period we have had a massive amount of centralisation of bureaucratic procedures and increasing nationalisation of consumer standards in particular, has taxi licensing remained the province of local government, which has such a differentiation of standards? Why has there never been pressure on any Government to take the step to nationalise these standards?
Mick Rix: Because it is localised markets. It is basically as simple as that. It cannot be compared to an HGV driver or a coach driver, for example. These are local markets, distinct to local areas, and that is one of the reasons why it comes under local authorities.
Q55 Paul Maynard: But I have to say when I am travelling between Blackpool and Manchester on the M61, I pass taxis from across the north-west going up and down the motorway networks there. In this day and age, it isn’t a localised market. It’s an increasingly mobile market where taxi drivers are going way outside their local area. So does it need to remain the province of local Government?
Mick Rix: I think you are highlighting an issue in a market that has probably increased in the last 20 years as people have become more mobile, and that is where you see people on the motorway travelling distances maybe because of airport fares and things like that mainly, so people are going for a distinct thing. These are normally prebooked anyway.
I don’t think there is an issue about looking at some form of national standard for enforcement officers for people who are operating over large distances and doing single journeys or even a return journey, coming back from another area. This market has increased in the last 20 years and there is a lot of this taking place, and I don’t think it would be unreasonable of us to look at perhaps a standard for that issue. But the main point we are talking about here is that there are local authorities that are applying the standards and there are some local authorities that are not applying the standards. We don’t really need to change everything. It is giving people the ability to enforce and perhaps look at some of the other areas where we need to bring in some of the changes like the example that you have spoken about.
Q56 Chair: Just a final one: does satnav and other new technology replace the need for local knowledge?
Tommy McIntyre: Absolutely not.
Q57 Chair: Just quick answers anyone. Can anyone tell me why it doesn’t?
Michael Hildreth: Definitely not.
Q58 Chair: Why not? Why doesn’t it?
Michael Hildreth: As an example, at Brighton station, I am sitting there in my taxi. Someone comes up and just says, "Can you take me to the hotel next to the roundabout opposite there that’s white?" Unless they have a defined post code or a street, they are not going to find it.
Q59 Chair: Thank you very much. Mr Sokhi, do you want the last word?
Gavin Sokhi: I would just say, whatever the software and the way it works, that the drivers are given the pickup and the destination address. They use their satnav, it’s linked in, they don’t have to type anything in, and it takes them straight to that destination. By saying you need a knowledge test is limiting the trade in the sense that, if drivers are unemployed, they have to take a knowledge test and maybe stay unemployed for a further three or four months until they can pass the test, whereas if satnav is involved they could start working sooner.
Chair: Thank you very much, gentlemen.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: David B. Wilson, Licensing Consultant and former Licensing Manager of Berwick District Council, Ian Shanks, Partner, Blue Line Taxis, Paul McLaughlin, Company Secretary, Delta Taxis, Richard Jarman, Company Secretary, South Sefton Hackney Drivers’ Association, and John Griffin, Chairman, Addison Lee, gave evidence.
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. Some 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 and 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 not 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 the 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 got 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. 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-
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 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. I can’t see a role for local authorities outside licensing the 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 on 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 locally. I have certainly had experience of charging and dubious practices for private hire, 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 says. In private hire, time and again, the drivers say, "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.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Myles Bebbington, Licensing Officer, Cambridgeshire, Damien Edwards, Licensing Officer, Liverpool City Council, Councillor Cec Tallack, Leader Milton Keynes Council, and Philip Soderquest, Public Safety and Enforcement Manager, Northumberland Council, gave evidence.
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 all just be 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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