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IN THE NEWS


NORWICH TAXI AND PH COMPANIES HIT BY DRIVER SHORTAGES AS DEMAND INCREASES


Taxi and private hire companies in Norwich have been hit by a national shortage of drivers as demand begins to take off through growing tourism and the return to normality. According to the Norwich Evening News, companies report- ed busy Saturday nights as the city’s clubland sprang to life on the weekend ofJuly 19 - so-called Freedom Day. Chris Harvey, marketing manager of ABC Taxis, said between 90 and 100 drivers were available on that Saturday night trying to respond to calls as quickly as possible, with the company’s current fleet at 272. He said: “It’s going to be around 22,000 jobs this week. There’s a national shortage of drivers at the moment which is losing us a few drivers. “There are three main reasons why, including the pinging. It is a little to do with Brexit, we are not seeing the eastern European workforce coming over, and since restrictions have lifted drivers have been able to go home, which they haven’t been able to do, so they have shot off home for a bit


of a break.” Facing a similar situation is Courtesy Taxis, which is also based in Norwich. Mark Streeter, managing director, said the company has been recruiting new drivers after seeing a shortage. He said: “It’s mainly down to drivers finding alternative employment when lockdown first happened, such as parcel delivery and food delivery, which obviously went ballistic and they are still doing it as the demand is still there.” Mr Harvey said it was “a little bit manic” between 10pm and midnight on Saturday. He said: “We could quite easily keep a fleet of 300 busy. One of the things we have found this year is we are seeing a mas- sive increase in tourism, we always do see tourists come into Norfolk but with people not going abroad, it’s suddenly increased that demand. “Any increase in need is good for our line of work, hopefully we can keep recruiting as much as we can.”


LEWES DRIVERS DEVASTATED AFTER SCHOOL TAXI CONTRACT HANDED TO ESSEX FIRM


Drivers in Lewes have been left ‘devastated’ after school taxi contracts were awarded to a new firm based in Essex. The Sussex Express reports that the recent retendering saw East Sussex County Council award most of its ‘one school’ contracts, where one provider supplies all of the vehicles and staff to a school, to 24×7 Limited. James Kiernan, a Unite member who represents Lewes hack- ney drivers said drivers only found out the news two weeks ago, when 24x7 Limited representatives came to hand out leaflets at taxi ranks in the area. Mr Kiernan has had a contract with the same school for 18 months but no longer knows whether this will continue come September. It has been his only source of work throughout the pandemic. Mr Kiernan has been a hackney carriage driver for around 22 years, but said: “If I can’t secure anything come September, how long I will last in the trade I don’t know.” Many other taxi drivers are in the same situation, he said. “They are devastated,” he said. “It’s sheer panic. It’s going to have an impact on everyone, basically. Cllr James MacCleary said: “The concerns are around the lack of transparency there’s been in the process. It’s been a bit of a shock the way taxi drivers and councillors have found out. It’s the impact not only on the drivers themselves, their liveli- hoods and their ability to continue operating in the area, but the impact on the children – many of whom are vulnerable.


AUGUST 2021


That’s quite a reckless risk that the county council is taking.” In an open letter posted on Twitter, Lewes District councillor Sean Macleod stated: “I need to stress Lewes DC has no say on this whole process and it is fully East Sussex County Council who have gone down this road. “I want to be clear. I will fight for Lewes District taxi drivers. “I know drivers think we don’t listen but I hope many realise that I do and I want to continue the good relationship I have gained with the trade.” The letter goes on to call on the county council to explain why the company, which is based in Essex, was awarded the contract over a more local contractor. He also called on the county council to give details of how many drivers will be affected by the changes and to offer assurances to parents of pupils who use the taxi services. When approached for comment, an East Sussex County Council spokesman said: “All of our contracts are regularly reviewed to ensure we continue to get the best value for money. Nine of our ‘one school’ contracts have been recently retendered resulting in 24×7 Limited being awarded seven of these contracts. While 24×7 Limited’s head office is based in Essex, their drivers and passenger assistants will be East Sussex-based and will include those wishing to transfer from current providers under TUPE arrangements. 24×7 Limited has a very good training programme, which is above and beyond what we specify in our contact.”


21


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