In 1979, a young plumber called Charlie Mullins decided to set up his own plumbing business, nearly 40 years later, that business, Pimlico Plumbers, has become London's largest independent plumbing company and made Charlie one of Britains most successful entrepreneurs.
Charlie was born in Camden and brought up on the Rockingham Estate in Elephant and Castle, he left school at 15 with no qualifications. He is proof that with hard work, dedication and drive, you can achieve anything. Charlie is a true Londoner, he loves London, he has an exuberance when talking about London, and it's clear that he is not happy at how London is being run at the moment. We were given the privilege of an interview with Charlie, where he speaks quite candidly about the taxi industry, running for mayor, Uber, the current tribunal case and of course Brexit, as well as several other issues. TaxiPoint welcomes Charlie Mullins. So Charlie, first question, do you plan to run for mayor? Yes, we will be starting our campaign in January. I hope to do well on it being a Londoner. Being born in London, living in London and working in London, as well as going out in London, this city is very important to me, so we will definitely be making ourselves present on the campaign. Will you be standing as an independent or will you align yourself to a political party? I will definitely be standing as an independent. I've not got a lot of faith political parties at the moment, the only one we've jumped into bed with are the Lib-Dems because of their anti-Brexit stance. We used to donate to the Conservative party, but we've stopped that, we now donate to Lib-Dems, who are doing their best for a peoples vote. What are your views on Sadiq Khan’s tenure as Mayor? I don't think that he is powerful enough, I don't think he has done anything that stands out particularly. I don't want to "knock" the guy because it's a hard job, but I think he "sits on the fence" too much. He's been very weak on Uber and he's been very weak on supporting black cabs. He's also been very weak on knife crime, and very weak on getting youngsters into work. I think he (Sadiq) is the worst of the lot, I didn't like Livingstone, I thought Boris did a good job apart from the cycle lanes. I think Sadiq just comes across as weak, in fact the most powerful move he has taken is calling for a second referendum. He has also come up with some crazy ideas such as the pedestrianisation of Oxford Street, absolutely crazy. I don't think he respects the London taxi industry I don't think he sees how iconic they are. Let's move forward a couple of years, you are elected Mayor, how would you control the taxi industry, the PHV industry and companies such as Uber? I'm 100% for London cabs, I wouldn't get in an Uber even if it was free, and I advise all my family not to use Uber. I think safety is important. First of all, if I'm being honest, once they start monitoring Uber properly, I would ban them if they didn't come up to standard, I'm uncomfortable with them in London, nothing to do with money or anything else like that, it's purely about safety, I don't like the way that they conduct themselves. I think that they are coming in at a cheap price so that they can force London taxis off the road. I read somewhere that they are losing millions every year, how can they run a business that is losing money? I think that every Uber driver should take a secondary driving test because I'm not convinced that all of their drivers have a UK driving licence, something's not right there, regarding their driving ability. In the past, on the very rare occasion where I’ve been in an Uber through friends, my experience is that they can barely speak English, they're not good drivers, they don't know where they're going, they're eyes aren't on the road. So safety for me comes way ahead of money. I understand why a lot of people use Uber, but I believe if London cabbies stepped up a little bit, if some were a little bit smarter, if some were a little more polite, because there is a minority who aren't then many people would turn back to Black cabs. I don't think there's room for Uber in Central London. I want to see more taxi ranks in London, make it easier for people to get into a London cab. What do you think can be done to improve the standard of the road network in London? To be honest, if we keep cutting down road space in favour of cycle lanes then how can the traffic flow? I think we need to look at re-widening the roads rather than streamlining them. I’m led to believe that for 80% of any given day the cycle lanes are not used, so of course congestion is going to be created if we narrow a road from 2 lanes into 1 to facilitate cycle lanes. One of the ways forward is to allow traffic to access cycle lanes outside of prescribed hours. I would also allow essential service vehicles to use some bus lanes. A lot of the time, some bus lanes are empty, it would reduce congestion, therefore service vans of a certain size should be allowed to use certain bus lanes. One of the other things I would bring in is cycle licensing and make them pay a form of road tax. I would also make them carry a registration mark and have insurance. More and more accidents are occurring and more and more claims are going through and it can't always be the motorists fault. I think that cyclists need to take more responsibility. We’ve allowed the cycling lobby to have far too much power. How does the drop in road speed affect Pimlico Plumbers? Well, to us it's money, and sometimes we can't get to emergencies on time, so customers get annoyed at us, this is one of the reasons as to why I would look at essential service vehicles sharing some of the bus lanes in London. I also think it's crazy that the speed limits have dropped to 20 mph it really does need to go back to 30 mph. I read something the other day that more minor accidents are happening because of the reduction in the speed limit. I also think that the lower limits have created more congestion. What are your views on the congestion charge, the toxicity charge and the low emission zone? Well the congestion charge including the toxicity charge costs us around £500,000 per annum, its crazy. The other thing I don't like is certain roads being restricted as part of a low emissions area if we are going to have a low emission area then have it throughout all of London and not just a few streets. I think emissions zones and congestion zones are nothing more than a money-making exercise and by making cyclists pay a form of road tax and be registered, that would bring in a fair amount of revenue, and the more revenue available, the more work can be done to improve the state of the roads, which are full of potholes. You can't have selective charging in London, you either have it across all of the London boroughs or you dont have it at all. Moving on to Brexit, how will this affect Pimlico Plumbers? We don't employ many workers from the EU, for no other reason other than that I don't understand the systems, they don't have the qualifications that we need, and we also have communication problems on a one to one basis. They are great workers in construction sites, they were great helping to build the Olympic Village, and they are keeping a lot of construction sites open. It doesn't affect us directly, but I do believe it is going to affect the economy, which means it is going to affect all of us business-wise as well as just generally working and living, so I believe it is going to affect the economy, massively. The limitation of EU workers entering the UK is going to affect the NHS, the Leisure industry, places such as coffee shops, skilled workers on construction sites etc. I firmly believe that if Brexit goes ahead then the UK will fall into recession. I think that aside from the security issues, we will see import/export tariffs going up, food bills going up, the stockpiling of food and medicine, in fact I haven't heard a single argument from anybody that states where we are going to be any better off. We needed to know what we are letting ourselves in for, and now it is becoming clearer, of course we've got to listen to the experts, I'm sure they know more than Theresa May and some of the of the ministers who have never run a business, or really know how to live and look after themselves. All I'm hearing is the bad side of Brexit. I was speaking to Gina Miller, we are getting involved with a campaign called End The Chaos, we are financially backing it. There is a lot more that the government are not letting out, for instance did you know that if Brexit goes ahead then the quarantining of animals could be reinstated. There are so many things that we weren't aware of when we had the referendum, but now we are more aware, we are entitled to a people's vote. I feel that the referendum was illegal, the overspending, the cheating, the lying, the economy is going to be so much worse off. There are around 1.3 million workers from the EU working in the UK at the moment, jobs such as farm workers, coffee shop workers, NHS workers, who makeup that number, we aren't going to be able to replace those workers with people from the UK because the benefit system discourages the unemployed from seeking work. I don't believe in underpaying workers or paying below the living wage, people should be paid fairly, but i believe the benefits system is stopping people from going to work. I think ultimately the government is going ahead with Brexit to suit their own agenda, and I believe that there isn't a worse person to negotiate Brexit than Theresa May, she seems to have no common sense, no business sense, and is completely impractical. The people she's surrounded herself with are treading all over her, if this were a boxing match they would retire her. What is happening with the workers rights case involving Pimlico Plumbers? I believe that the judge has "bottled it" because it was clear cut that this guy was self-employed. The judge has come to the wrong decision, and a lot of workers, self-employed people are going to suffer because of it, the economy is going to worsen again. We still have to go to a tribunal, at the moment, we need to pay him, holiday pay and a bit of sick pay. We still have to go to a tribunal to decide whether he has been discriminated against over a disability issue, which is nonsense, you can't build a business without looking after the people who work for you. So it was a very, very bad and poor decision, it should never have got to this stage. I don't believe in Zero hour contracts and I don't believe in underpaying anybody and I certainly don't believe in or treading the workforce. You've probably not seen it Steve but we have an on-site gym, a cafe, we have a roof garden, we have a masseuse come in to give workers head and back massages four days a week, we have incentives where workers can win an employee of the month competition which entitles them to a £200 voucher. We have various different incentives for workers, so how can we be accused of ill treating somebody. We have had one tribunal case in 39 years, and that was this one. We have tried to accommodate the guy, but he wanted £20,000 off of me or he was going to go to a tribunal. This action may cause a lot of problems for a lot of people because I believe that the economy will be affected. In reality the government are at fault because there's not enough clarity regarding self employment and employment. Would you be willing to put yourself forward to help set up an all party parliamentary group looking into the reformation of employment legislation? Quite easily! Matthew Taylor has come up with a report, but he's still sitting on the fence, he needs to be clear as to what is employment and what is self employment, In the world that I was brought up in you were either PAYE or self employed, why complicate things by putting a third tier into the equation. We followed, to the letter, what the Inland Revenue, our accountants and our lawyers told us to do, we haven't done anything wrong, but he (our ex-worker) has just found a loophole and is exploiting it. Unfortunately it will affect a lot of businesses, as a result you become more wary as to who you bring on board to work, so we need more clarity. Do you think that the government are slow to act because they are trying to appease companies imvolved in the gig economy, such as Uber, Google and Amazon for example? They are openly encouraging companies such as Uber but they doing nothing to encourage companies that are home-grown and trying to do things in the right way. I wouldn't have been able to run a successful business for 39 years if I treated people in the wrong way. It's cherry-picking because they let companies like Amazon get away with a lot in terms of taxes etc, so if you have a law its got to protect the employer as well as employee. We all have to be protected by the same law regardless of the size of the company. As for Uber, that isn't right, the way it's allowed to operate isn't right, I don't know how they are allowed to get away with it. We have to get things tidied up and there should be more clarity, but unfortunately the government isn't very good at that sort of thing. I just want to go back a bit to talk about the roads again Steve, I believe that there is a place for vehicle sharing and lane sharing. In the U.S if there is more than one person in a vehicle they have a seperate lane available to them, and I believe that we could introduce that to help ease congestion. I also believe that people coming into town on their own in a vehicle should be prevented from coming in at certain times of the day, such as rush hour, unless their journey is business related. So expanding on that, do you think that essential service vehicles such gas, water and electric maintanance vehicles should be allowed to use some of the bus lane network across London? Absolutely, vehicles that are clearly identified as essential service vehicles, up to a certain weight should be allowed to use some of the lanes so as to relieve some of the congestion. I would like to say that I would like to see London cabbies "step it up a bit" smarten themselves up a bit, maybe a bit of a uniform, I think that if cabbies made themselves more high profile, people would use taxis more. I hate seeing a cabbie wearing tracksuit bottoms, I think if we can push the London cab trade then we can out-do anybody else. I've seen some really smart cabbies and I’ve thought to myself, you know what, that's nice, I just believe that there should be a dress-code, if not a uniform, then certain things that they can't wear. I think the London cab trade can be improved by the cabbies themselves, it's not going to cost them any more money, just be a little smarter. I would tell the cab trade not to worry about Uber, worry about their own business, because Uber are going to run themselves off of the road. When you are in the vicinity of one, well it isn't getting any better with them, and I’m convinced that some of them may not have a full U.K driving licence given the way some of them drive. I really think that they are dangerous, and you cannot put a price on safety. They may come in cheap but you cannot run a business like that at a loss, so I don't think that they will last. I believe that once they get the market share they will push their prices up.and they will come unstuck. Some of them have basic communication problems too, which can't be right in a service industry. I love London cabs and it will be a shame if we ever lose them and if I were mayor I would be promoting them. Taxis are an asset to London, they are iconic, why would you want to promote somebody driving around in a car who doesn't have a clue what they're doing? We need to put more value on the London cabbie. Do you think The Knowledge should be reduced or speeded up? I'm not the best person to ask that because you guys know what The Knowledge entails. I love the fact I can just get in a taxi and you guys automatically know where you are going. You understand what's going on in London, maybe over time it could be reduced bit then again it's important to keep standards high. I've never been in a black cab where i've nearly had a crash, I've never had that, we need to promote the importance of a Black cab driver. TaxiPoint would like to thank Charlie and the team for allowing us to conduct this interview.