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THE PERFECT LICENSING SERVICE


Article written by Asif Shah: Chair of Better Taxi Action Group and the West Yorkshire Coalition


If there’s one thing that this pandemic has taught the trade: each local authority (LA) has its own varying level of appreciation for the job that we do. Some would say that we are the 4th emergency service, providing a vital lifeline to their communities - others just look at us as a toxic area of their governance.


Up and down the country we have seen some LAs support their trade 10/10 whilst others have sadly offered 1/10.


WHY IS THIS?


The government itself has not stepped up. There should have been clearer guidelines issued to LAs about the importance of protecting our trade for the future, highlight- ing the value of how taxis support the British economy.


• Without us there would be no safe rides home at the end of a night out.


• Without us there would be no rides to schools, surgeries, hospitals, supermarkets, airports.


• Taxis play a vital and strategic role in every developed country around the world.


SO WHY DO SOME LAs TREAT US WITH SUCH CONTEMPT?


LAs have delegated authority (by laws) to govern local areas tailored to the needs of the local community. The needs of parking services in Manchester will vary greatly to those in Basildon. Schooling needs in a diverse city like Birmingham will vary greatly to those in affluent areas such as Harrogate.


The same logic applies to taxis with some LAs being under- served and others over saturated. Local licensing does work, but there needs to be some basic principles that all LAs adhere to: • Respect • Appreciation • Safety of the public (bearing in mind that drivers form part of the ‘public’ too).


One of the key problems with LAs is that senior officers are in the job for far too long and often have no experience of the trade or licensing laws. Take my LA for example: Bradford which had a private company contracted to manage all school transport services in the area. Eventually the compa- ny was struck off for serious failings and Bradford Council took back control. The senior administrator for that private company was offered a job by the LA to continue running school services but with the added bonus of overseeing the taxi licensing service.


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The outcome: there are now no queues at the depot. Instead drivers sit at home waiting to hear from the service for up to 14 days.


Great result for the officer! Disaster for the trade!


In my opinion senior officer roles should be changed every three to four years before the role itself becomes toxic. Our previous senior licensing officer went through the same cycle.


ELECTED MEMBERS (COUNCILLORS)


In Bradford we have a councillor responsible for overseeing the licensing service who has absolutely no previous experi- ence in taxi licensing matters. It should be made compulsory for elected members who hold responsibility for taxis to have some minimum standards of experience. They should be required to carry out training to better understand the basic principles of the taxi trade, including public and driver safety matters. So should all senior officers too.


Some LAs seem to have drifted away from their basic core responsibilities to the trade. It’s time that they are brought back into line and are reminded of the issues that matter the most and help facilitate a path to recovery from Covid that the trade so desperately needs.


MAY 2021


The first few years were great; we had open dialogue to help improve services. After two to three years of positive actions, stakeholders who formed part of the reforms had no need to liaise with the officer as much because everything was running smoothly. Perfect bliss.


Over the following few years we can only assume that the dealings of the officer with the trade were more related to disgruntled drivers - the bad apples that we all have. He became accustomed to seeing the minority of bad apples more than the positive stakeholders, his perception of the trade slowly changed to the extent where the service began implementing new polices in an authoritarian way. We began to see polices which had a: negative impact on safety; financial impact on drivers; and created unnecessary delays for drivers.


Here’s an example: the trade was concerned that waiting times to be seen at the depot were becoming excessive, sometimes up to four hours. The service blamed austerity and cutbacks. The trade had to remind them that the licensing ser- vice was self-funded and should not be subjected to austerity measures.


The officers solution was to create an appointment based system only. So now drivers need to email queries and wait for up to 14 days for a response - they cannot just turn up without an appointment. Also all telephone lines have been scrapped.


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