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PROTEST PLIGHT


PHV DRIVERS IN SANDWELL TOOK TO STREETS IN PROTEST OVER LONG DELAYS IN GETTING LICENCES


PHV drivers took the streets to protest against Sandwell Council for long delays in receiving private hire licences, as pressure continues to mount against the authority. According to the Express and Star, more than 200 drivers staged a protest outside Sandwell Council House, in Oldbury, on Wednesday 11 August at 11am, organised by the Sandwell Private Hire Drivers Association. Drivers are unhappy at the length of time they say it is taking the council to issue private hire licences. However Sandwell Council chiefs have now said they have listened to the concerns of taxi drivers and are committed to helping ease their concerns. Imran Mahmood Qureshi, secretary of Sandwell Private Hire Drivers Association, who organised the protest, said: “This problem has been going on for more than ten years. “During the pandemic, it was horrendous. We have often felt like we are going circles, where we write to our council leaders, and then receive no response.” He added: “Frankly, we feel like we are being ripped off. “The council say they are committed to helping us, but if they can’t commit, why should we listen to what they have to say?” Face-to-face appointments with drivers were suspended last year due to the pandemic but many drivers complained they could not get through on the phone, while some were not able to use email. According to badge and taxi plate data seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, it takes between nine and 12 months for new applications for a private hire licence to be processed. For Wolverhampton city council, it takes approximately three weeks. A one year taxi plate costs £353 for a vehicle under five years old, and £399 if it is over five years old, if the vehicle is registered with Sandwell council. Other councils, such as Dudley council and Birmingham city council, charge £235 and £185 for any aged vehicle. Cllr Jay Anandou, deputy leader of opposition for Sandwell council, said: “After meeting with the Sandwell Private Hire Drivers’ Association, reps have urged the council leadership to act swiftly on the long standing demands of the drivers. “When other councils take far less time to process a new operating licence for private hire drivers, Sandwell takes


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almost one year, which is highly ineffi- cient, unfair on hard working people, and needs an immediate attention.’’ He added: “There needs to self- introspection on how the council oper- ates their licensing regime for private hire drivers in Sandwell, not only for the drivers but to the Sandwell economy at large as this inefficiency in handling licencing affects our overall Sandwell economy and transport infrastructure – and makes Sandwell look anti-business.” Paul Brent, who represents the National Taxi Association for the north-west and Midlands, said: “Taxi drivers have not been treated fairly, both during the pandemic and as we come out of lockdown. “Many have lost livelihoods. So with a long and bureaucratic application


process, and little communication with the council, it is no wonder taxi drivers in Sandwell are protesting.” He added: “We have driven people to get their vaccine appointments, and helped deliver vital goods in times of need. All we ask for is self-respect and the ability to do our jobs.” Council leader Rajbir Singh met with members of Sandwell Private Hire Drivers' Association to discuss the changes and listen to their concerns. Councillor Singh said new software had been introduced to make it easier for drivers to make payments and the licensing office was now open five days a week. “The past 18 months have been a challenging time, particu- larly for those in the taxi trade," the Labour politician said. “I would like to thank you all for your continued support and for the commitment throughout the pandemic to continue working and transporting people who needed your support to make essential journeys. “We are listening to the drivers’ concerns and are in the process of implementing a user-friendly software system that will allow drivers to apply, track, and make payments, and this will bring huge benefits to them. “In addition, the licensing office is now open five days a week for appointments where these are needed to resolve any issues and the ability to be able to pay online will be available imminently.” The council said it has also reinstated issuing renewal and expiry reminder letters and has agreed to contact all applicants within two working days of receiving their applications.


SEPTEMBER 2021


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