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 last Tuesday. If the government insists on deregulation it risks giving the green light to rogue minicab drivers.
Taxis and private hire vehicles (PVH) are an overlooked part of our national transport system. Taxis and minicabs 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 tricky problem of reform to the Law Commission in 2011 despite the Transport Select Committee advising against this. 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 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. Consultation on controversial government policies is expected to be 12 weeks.
Why, when the number of rogue minicab drivers is a growing concern 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 firm turning up at their door.
There are enough 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 taxi trade themselves are saying these reforms are so poorly thought through that they are set to spend more time in court.
This rush to rip up regulation is wrong. Labour will continue to fight these measures in the Deregulation Bill. We will continue to stand up for the public who rely on taxis and minicabs, and the taxi and private hire industry that provides this vital means of transport.
Richard Burden is Labour’s Shadow Roads Minister and MP for Birmingham Northfield