Angry Harlow taxi drivers call for chair of licensing committee to resign over “Wolverhampton controversy”.
Business / Sun 24th Sep 2023 at 03:15pm
BY Emma Doyle and Michael Casey
HARLOW taxi drivers have repeated their call for the chair of Harlow Council’s Licensing Committee to resign over what can only be described as the “Wolverhampton controversy”.
To re-cap: It has been more than eight years since a law change has meant that private hire drivers are not required to live or operate within the local authority where they were issued their license.
However, Harlow has seen a distinct increase in cab drivers registered in Wolverhampton
One local private-hire minicab driver told a Local Democracy Reporter that “people who live and work in Harlow are being pushed aside” by sub-contracted drivers from other parts of the country.
“All we want is fairness,” he added.
There are a number of factors which have caused this spike in private-hire licenses being issued by City of Wolverhampton Council. However, each instance can first be traced back to the introduction of the Deregulation Act 2015.
When changes surrounding taxi licensing were brought in by the act, it was explicitly written into law that drivers with a private-hire license issued by a local authority could use it to operate from anywhere within England and Wales. Previously, drivers were required to return to their licensed area in between jobs.
Wolverhampton in particular has become a go-to licensing authority due to the administration’s shorter waiting times and drastically lower fees in comparison to other councils.
At the start of this year, City of Wolverhampton licensing manager Greg Bickerdike noted that a nationwide shortage of private-hire drivers – caused primarily by the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic – had led to the council becoming “inundated” with new applications during 2021 and 2022.
He said: “The service is struggling to meet demand. As of December 15, 2022, there were 2,634 applications in the queue, which is approximately a two-month wait.”
Despite this, an effect of the huge surge in new private-hire license applications was that the council was left with a £300,000 surplus, which was in turn added to the licensing reserve account and put towards reducing license fees.
As of April 1 2023, a new one-year license for either a hackney carriage or private hire vehicle costs £49, rising to £98 for three years. In contrast, Harlow Council charges £298 for a one-year private-hire operator license.
Local authorities outside of London are not able to impose limits on the number of private-hire drivers or vehicles operating in their area. Government statistics show that, between 2022 and 2023, the number of licensed vehicles in the West Midlands increased by 31.8%. This is owed almost entirely to the large hike in licenses issued by City of Wolverhampton Council.
This has sparked anger amongst a number of Harlow’s hackney carriage and private-hire drivers, who claim they are slowly being forced out due to an over-saturated market, unsustainable licensing fees and lower costs for customers who opt to use services such as Uber (a provider which has around 180 drivers registered in the town).
One group has called for the resignation of licensing committee chairman Nick Churchill (Con., Sumners and Kingsmoor), alleging that he has “downplayed” the issue and “made everything look rosy”.
However, the LDRS was told that protesting Harlow cab drivers are “one step ahead” of Cllr Churchill in their fight for a review of the current legislation, and being supported by the trade union Unite.
As viewers saw, from our film at Thursday night’s Harlow council meeting, Harlow taxi drivers packed the gallery and had tabled a number of questions for councillor Churchill.
But councillor Churchill did not attend. His questions were answered by council leader, Dan Swords.
According to Harlow Council’s website, his attendance at full council meetings is as follows:
He has not attend full council meetings on Oct 28th, 2021, Dec 9th, 2021, Feb 24th, 2022, Sept 5th, 2022, September 22nd, 2022, Nov 3rd, 2022, Nov 22nd, 2022, Dec 15th, 2022, Feb 23rd, 2023, April 6th, 2023, July 20th, 2023, Sept 21st, 2023.
He has attended meetings on Feb 3rd, 2022, March 31st, 2022. May 26th, 2022, July 28th, 2022, Nov 17th, 2022, May 25th, 2023.
We asked Harlow taxi driver, Lee Dangerfield for his reflections on Thursday night.
Mr Dangerfield said: “It’s seems to us that drivers from Wolverhampton and Uber just do as they wish and the article written by Churchill reads they are doing nothing wrong and actually seem to get his backing. The figures given were totally incorrect and he kept using the word “Taxi” (see Stuart’s question number 8 plus the response)
We were very disappointed that Councillor Churchill failed once again to attend a meeting. The questions were designed for him to comment on not pass the buck to the leader who we have already met and will be meeting again shortly.
His attendance ( for a chair of a committee and the former whip of the group) is not acceptable, the public are noticing this also.
As a chair of a committee that has the power to end a persons livelihood the attendance needs to be better than this.
Cllr Churchill has no leadership , no direction or foresight see Question 10 from me regarding the LGA report in 2021, The fact that the answer from Cllr Swords clearly shows that this committee has been lazy and lacklustre in their approach to this ever growing problem.
“The committee used to invite a rep from both hackney carriage and private hire to meetings that included items on the trade but this has stopped since covid, This once again proves that the committee does not wish to communicate with the trade.
Officers are still working from home since Covid which means all drivers have to submit an email which will get answered at some point. There is no face to face meetings nor telephone conversations when you want them. This is not a service drivers deserve or expect for the amount of fees paid to the council.
“Why are these officers still working from home? The last report I received said that only a handful of checks had been done on H/C and P/H in Harlow how is that putting the duty of care at the forefront of every Harlow resident?
With reference to the Labour Party and Cllr Vince he stated he would raise this at full council. He never did? Why? I told Cllr Durcan on Thursday how disappointed I was that Labour said nothing.
Cllr Churchill needs to resign with immediate effect or Cllr Swords needs to remove him.
“Every driver I talk to says the same thing and we will continue to demand this until it happens”.
Churchill the bottle job
This councillor needs to resign immediately or get sacked. It’s up to him the way he wants to play it. There two options. Up to him!
So this seems to show that our council is not very efficient. Why are employees still working from now covid is over (it never started it was a scam, mostly). Get the staff back in the office or get them fired, and replaced with ones who want to do the role. At the same time the council should be cutting the cost to local taxi drivers.
It's about time this local council realised and appreciated what the Hackney carriage and private hire trades does for the local tenants of this town, and preferably have the right people in licensing who are prepared to play fair and support the trade all I've seen in the 14 years I've been doing it is basically corruption and I've fed up when you ask a question or a problem to be resolved from licensing all you get is IT'S A GREY AREA makes you wonder why we pay our licensing fees
The licensing committee chair appears to have a conflict of interest that is creating doubt as to whether Taxi and Private Hire licensing decisions are being made in a fair and unbiased way, and surely leaves his position untenable?
This man can not be trusted
After more than 14 years in the position the complaceny from Cllr Churchill has hit an all time high.
Cllr Churchill has shown his contempt for the trade by not showing up to the meeting. The rules on questions state that they have to be submitted in advance so Churchill would have known what was coming and bottled out. The people of Harlow need to be made aware that these Wolverhampton drivers do not have to take a knowledge test and that council officers have not rights to perform random inspections of their vehicles as they do with locally licensed drivers. Add to this that local PH and HC drivers have to attend extra training, for example and extra driving test and disability and child exploitation courses. Cllr Churchill needs to clear his desk and go.
Churchill needs to resign.
He has no regards towards local Taxi a ph drivers seems more concerned about out of town drivers who are working in the town..I always thought local councilors are working the local people who play by the rules,licensed drivers.. obviously not.
Harlow Labour's candidate for the next general election, councillor Chris Vince, should answer in the comments section the following comment from Lee Dangerfield: "With reference to the Labour Party and Cllr Vince he stated he would raise this at full council. He never did? Why?"
I’ll be refusing to use ANY taxi firm using one of these out of towners! They make their money from us then drive back up north with it, someone is taking Harlow for a proper ride! No wonder we are up the creek without a paddle! Yet the morons of Harlow will still vote for the useless fools who are allowing this to continue! Bit like the office blocks into homes malarky, another Tory idea not even considered!
I feel sorry for the pH and hc drivers in Harlow they are not being treated fairly something needs to be done to sort this problem out
Mr Churchill needs to be held accountable for his false comments regarding Wolverhampton licence fees.
Mr Churchill normally pops on here and lets everyone know his opinion, I’m thinking we might not see him on this post ! My mum had to tell the cab driver the other day where to go, this could well explain why with no knowledge of Harlow needed this could be the case.
Harlow council yet again showing they couldn't run a stall at a fair let alone a council. As for the so called councillor..renowned for being as usefull as a chocolate teapot . Must be great to be paid to be this useless. But then the council has sold Harlow down the river for years .
If Conservative Councillors can't even be bothered to turn up, perhaps they should resign as Councillors?
There has been a compleat failure by licensing in harlow. They are not supporting local taxi driver and not holding operators to the conditions they set. Churchill needs to be replaced. .
This entire article is a load of rubbish I cannot believe what I’m reading, local taxi drivers ? There must be loads of Harlow licensed drivers that do not live in Harlow but regularly commute from London and other areas into Harlow for work So the idea of a local Harlow resident obtaining a private hire licence from another authority such as Epping, Uttlesford, TFL, Wolverhampton would be pushing aside harlow people is stupid and ridiculous talk Surly those drivers can’t think people drive 200 miles to work every day from Wolverhampton . Drivers go to Wolverhampton Licancing authority or Uttlesford etc as it’s cheap , fast and efficient this is on a national scale little loan Harlow. the operator will ensure the vehicles and drivers are meeting the standards and the local MOT and compliance centres for Wolverhampton are local to Harlow also like Chelmsford and Hatfield for example people really need to know what they are talking about. There is no concern here what so ever. These drivers and authority’s have very high standards and meet the national standard anyway the only difference is with technology in the Private Hire trade why dose a Private Hire driver now days need to do a knowledge test ? He’s not picking up off the street and all the information is on his App! Including sat nav that’s a progressive approach, not an old-fashioned licensing approach Operators are trying to meet the demands of the public during rush hours or they wouldn’t be recruiting drivers as fast as possible , and also local drivers wouldn’t be going or changing away from Harlow if Harlow made the process simpler ! You do realise there is no legal limit on the amount of PH drivers that Harlow council licence so these drivers could go get a licence any time from Harlow if they wanted! PH is different to HC so what’s it got to do with the Hackney trade away? Why are you getting involved in Private Hire affaires ? what’s Legal is Legal period. You say Churchill needs to be replaced utter nonsense the law is the law so any acting chairman wouldn’t be able to do anything about it anyway. why are harlow council issuing plates to people that live in central London or elsewhere outside of harlow what’s the difference ? Uttlesford and Wolverhampton can visit the operator any time and do inspections of their vehicles . What’s all this nonsense about ? if you haven’t noticed I’m a Wolverhampton driver and I live in Harlow iv done all the enhanced DBS , driving , Medical , Cse, disability awareness, private hire and Hackney law course just didn’t need to waste 3/6 months learning the unnecessary knowledge test Harlows so up and coming there’s always a new area being build anyway! given this is on a national scale the drivers who are licensed via Harlow need to relax the hackneys need to stay out and ultimately people just want their car as quick as possible. There is no public safety concern so stop trying to portray One and for our Hackney trade the word Taxi can be used and is regularly used across the UK to market private hire company’s I know of several private hire company’s called whatever TAXIS they are a taxi service that you must pre book ! I don’t see how in Harlow especially that people could be confused as a Hackney is a black cab ! also not all companies are limited to just one authority anymore or trading area ! harlow should increase your Hackney polluting emissions standard and wipe you out give them one less headache to deal with.
Gary…….I would lay off the coffee if I were you.
A decent overview of the situation, but one or two inaccuracies about how it all arose, most obviously: "When changes surrounding taxi licensing were brought in by the [Deregulation Act 2015], it was explicitly written into law that drivers with a private-hire license issued by a local authority could use it to operate from anywhere within England and Wales. Previously, drivers were required to return to their licensed area in between jobs." In reality, even before the 2015 Act private hire vehicles weren't confined to any particular area, and could operate anywhere. For example, Sefton Council on Merseyside was a sort of forerunner to the Wolverhampton scenario, and Delta Taxis there exploited Sefton's light-touch and highly efficient licensing process to operate across the whole of Merseyside, including the City of Liverpool Council area. It was more of a case of the 2015 Act facilitating so-called 'cross-border' working rather than introducing it. So to an extent, Gary's, er, lengthy post above contains more than a grain of truth. This kind of thing is hardly completely new, at least substantively as opposed to the fine details. And there's a huge dose of hypocrisy about it all as well. But he's surely wrong in claiming that there are no concerns as regards standards and enforcement, for example. Numerous councillors, MPs and officials elsewhere have expressed concerns over the years. And, for example, while Wolverhampton and the licensing chair in Harlow can correctly say that there's nothing to stop Wolverhampton licensing officers doing compliance checks in Harlow, in reality such operations are likely to be limited in scope considering that the Wolverhampton officials are normally located hundreds of miles away from the areas the cars they license operate in, in dozens of locations throughout England, from Newcastle in the north, to Southampton in the south. But, and without looking back, Harlow's licensing chair's response to the initial article was little more than workaday political spin and selective presentation of facts and statistics. And, to be fair, the Labour politician's initial complaint more than smacked of politicking. But the Harlow chair's stance certainly seems to conflict with the more general reaction from 'licensing chiefs' elsewhere. By the same token, Wolverhampton's stance on the whole thing smacks more of commercialism, empire-building and municipal self-aggrandizement rather than notions of local democracy and public service. Likewise, the Harlow chair's response to it all seems born of complacency and self-interest - move along, guv, nothing to see here.
Council should also look into the number of PH drivers hire or accepted by the local PH Operators ABC/METRO. There should be a Cap or at least other town plated cabs should be ban or Allow Harlow license to be acceptable all over UK..:)
That’s nothing a company at Stansted airport do school runs across the UK I read an article that are using Braintree licensed vehicles to do a 4 mile school run in Cornwall and that parent couldn’t believe it it’s all in the PHT magazine, the drivers lives in Cornwall and he is licensed to Braintree Drivers done all the relevant training so what’s the difference there ? It’s going on with all councils everywhere across the UK
Hi Lee just to make you aware I asked the question at the cabinet meeting on the 7th of September. You can find this in the minutes of the meeting but for reference I include the question I asked below: 2 Councillor Chris Vince to Councillor Dan Swords (Leader of the Council): I recently met with members of the Harlow Licensed Drivers Welfare Association to discuss the issues of taxis in Harlow getting their licences from Wolverhampton. Although this practise is legal it does mean that Harlow Council are unable to inspect these vehicles. What if anything will Harlow Council do to ensure that these vehicles meet the high standards required of taxis in Harlow and that they can be regularly inspected? Moving forward what can we do to ensure all taxis operating regularly in Harlow have a Harlow Council licence?
Surely the issue is with local operators holding the door open to Wolverhampton drivers? If Metro (24x7 or whatever they're called this month) didn't actively advertise they welcome drivers from Wolverhampton then there wouldn't be an issue. The licensing authority can't stop drivers from other areas working in Harlow, but the operators can.....