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Shadow Roads Minister Richard Burden says the Government is wrong to deregulate this trade and that Labour will oppose these measures in the Deregulation Bill.

13/05/2014

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13th May 2014

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It’s not often you see the Government’s own MPs stand up in agreement with Labour in the House of Commons. But such is the folly of the Government’s rush to deregulate parts of the taxi and private hire trade that this was exactly what happened on Tuesday.

Taxis and private hire vehicles (minicabs) are an overlooked part of our national transport system. They aren’t just services for the well-off, but are an essential means of transport for those who can’t afford to run a car – and sometimes the only form of public transport available for elderly and disabled people.

If the service they provide – getting people from A to B – is straightforward, the rules governing the trade are not. The complexity surrounding local taxi and PHV licensing is such that the Government passed the hot potato of reform to the Law Commission in 2011. Since then, Ministers have delayed the release of the Commission’s report, which is so politically sensitive that it has been deferred until after the European and Council elections in May.

You would think Ministers would approach such controversial reforms in a sensitive way, in discussion with passengers, unions, industry and the councils who are responsible for regulating the trade. But this Government is so hell bent on scrapping ‘red tape’ that their reforms paradoxically risk public safety, threaten passenger choice and increase burdens on businesses.

I have been in contact with the National Private Hire Association, GMB, National Association of Licensing Enforcement Officers, Unite, RMT, National Taxi Association, Local Government Association and the Suzy Lamplugh Trust about these rushed and risky reforms. They are united in condemnation of the Government. After engaging for years with the Law Commission, in January 2014 these groups were given a paltry ten days to respond to proposals for deregulating parts of the trade. The norm for consultation on controversial government policies is 12 weeks. It’s just not on.

Proper enforcement of private hire vehicles and drivers, particularly when they ‘cross borders’ from the areas where they were licensed to new places, is a serious challenge. Local licensing authorities do not have adequate control and powers for effective policing of the trade – they can’t stop moving vehicles, impound them, or even force a driver to prove their identity. They have no powers to control vehicles from other areas at all. In 2013 a British Judge issued a damning indictment of the state of licensing enforcement when he concluded “nobody can travel in minicabs with any degree of assurance or safety.”

Now Ministers have included these reforms in their ‘Deregulation Bill’ the implications of the changes are becoming clear. When the number of rogue taxi drivers is a growing concern, why do Ministers want to end annual checks on their licenses? Can the Government seriously be proposing to loosen restrictions on who can drive a PHV, and allow operators to subcontract bookings to other firms, without boosting enforcement powers? They claim their changes will provide a better service. But there are real reasons why people book a journey with a certain firm, particularly for women, elderly and disabled people – who may be worried about the service they get from unknown operators. Many people just do not want an unknown operator turning up at their door.

There are real problems with ensuring that standards are maintained in the taxi and minicabs trade as it is – and the Government’s changes are set to make things worse. Tony Lloyd, the British Police and Crime Commissioner for Greater Manchester, has already declared the Government’s proposals to be a “backwards step.”

It’s not just the safety of the travelling public which Ministers are putting at risk. The industry are saying these reforms are so poorly thought through that they are set to spend more time in court. Are these reforms really going to help the trade and the travelling public?

The Government’s rush to rip up regulation is wrong. Labour will continue to fight these measures in the Deregulation Bill. We are standing up for the taxi and private hire industry, and the public who rely on this vital means of transport.

Richard Burden is Labour’s Shadow Roads Minister and MP for Birmingham Northfield

Click here to download and sign the petition against the Governments deregulation bill

Please send your completed petition to:

Unite Taxi Education
Bute Street
Liverpool
Merseyside
L5 3LA

See also…

MINISTERIAL CORRECTION: The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport (Stephen Hammond):

Sheffield MP raises taxi safety fears over Bill

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