Private hire representatives have urged the Government to assist taxi and minicab drivers nationwide, rather than on a regional scale, through the pandemic.
The Licensed Private Hire Car Association (LPHCA) Chairman, Steve Wright MBE, wrote directly to the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak MP, to seek tangible help for taxi and Private Hire Vehicle (PHV) drivers on a national basis.
In the letter to Sunak, Wright highlights several key issues facing the industry: ‘There are many closures of smaller operators, serious reductions of drivers returning to the trade, with Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles being stockpiled off road, some in fields and warehouses.’
Wright suggests one way of assisting cabbies and minicab drivers would be if the Government directly funds vehicle and driver licensing fees for owner drivers by way of a block claim by the licensing authority. The driver effectively is not charged for re-licensing his or her vehicle and renewing their own licence.
The LPHCA stated that they would be contacting other Taxi and Private Hire trade representatives in a bid to get universal support for the proposal and asked everyone in both Taxi and Private Hire to collaborate to get the message across.
The full letter, sent on 9 December, reads: ‘Since midsummer it has become extremely obvious that the support for Taxi & Private Hire Vehicle (PHV) Drivers, including chauffeurs has been extremely limited. This is in spite of the fact that these drivers have been in one of the highest ‘at risk’ groups of workers.
‘As many such drivers are self-employed the amount of support from government has been limited, this in part is because grant assistance does not take account of the need for these drivers to continue and maintain their vehicle and driver licence statuses, vehicle repayment costs and insurance. Those working also have the additional costs of facial coverings, PPE and cleaning materials.
‘These drivers have not been helped by bounce back loans, the excellent furlough scheme or by central government grant money that for instance covers Business Rates relief or deferred VAT payments.
‘Whilst some drivers have been fortunate enough to get some payment holidays for their vehicles, where they have been secured these have been short lived and the expenditure needed to make repayments is in no way met by the money available to the self-employed driver.
‘Where support is available, it is rules based, complex and difficult to secure, often leaving drivers with no easy route to support.
‘In many cases, parts of the working population of drivers, particularly in the airport transfer, hospitality and events supporting part of the industry there has been no work at all. Drivers have been encouraged by government, the NHS, ambulance services, rail and air disruption service providers and the educational sector to be available during the pandemic.
‘Even where there is work for drivers it is much reduced and subject to the vagaries of the pandemic. Drivers for example that had been expected to be available and ready for contracted work, for the entities above, have been laid off with no notice. For example when they are contacted by track and trace to say that they have been in close proximity to someone who has shown as positive for Covid-19.
‘Amongst the biggest dilemmas for drivers trying to survive and do some work during the pandemic are the overheads that they need to keep in place despite the massive downturn in work or the fact that work can be terminated or withdrawn at a moment’s notice.
‘In July I wrote to Secretary of State for Transport the Rt. Hon. Grant Shapps MP and said I am writing to draw your immediate attention to serious problems risking the sustainability of the private hire (taxi) industry. It is my considered opinion, following events culminating over recent days, that a significant part of the sector may collapse this summer.
‘Sadly, I was right as there are many closures of smaller operators, serious reductions of drivers returning to the trade, with Taxis & Private Hire Vehicles being stockpiled off road, some in fields and warehouses.
‘In addition to the above, licensing authorities are in the main, rarely fully operational, but where they are, they have overheads to maintain the licensing process that will be dependent on the numbers they licence.
‘I have been involved in regular talks with both national and local governments, alongside licensing authorities, big and small, in fact the LPHCA has engaged with well over 325 UK wide. I have also been in touch with hundreds of PHV operators and spoken to many drivers and they all ask the same question – when will we get help for drivers?
‘In recent talks with the Department for Transport there is dialogue on securing funding for PPE, cleaning materials and facial coverings, as well as partition screens, which has happened to their great credit via a few forward thinking and compassionate licensing authorities.
‘The problem with funding for products such as these is its management and quantification between different drivers. I have attentively listened to and understood the challenges facing governments and local authorities managing the distribution of funds and products. I therefore understand why these things take so long to organise and sign off.
‘I have however come up with an idea that will help licensed drivers, licensing authorities and government with an uncomplicated proposal to help all.
‘As Chancellor you are rightly looking to getting the country back to work ‘post pandemic’, drivers with little or no income therefore need funding to maintain or renew their various licenses. Local authorities also need licensing fee revenue to prevent unprecedented future licensing fee hikes, which will in turn add to the driver shortage that is already underway and will get worse post-pandemic.
‘My suggestion is:
‘Government directly funds vehicle and driver licensing fees for owner drivers by way of a block claim by the licensing authority. The driver is simply not charged for re-licensing his or her vehicle and renewing their own licence.
Drivers who have not renewed and may be lost to the trade will have an incentive to return
Drivers who are considering not returning to the trade would be more likely to return
Drivers who are considering not renewing their licence may now do so and return to work
The scheme managed by licensing authorities would be secure as money would go to them
Drivers who have renewed already could be credited with the grant money against their next licensing renewals
Licensing authority revenues will be more assured and less bureaucratic to process
Extra valuable cash in the driver’s pockets
As the money would be for individual drivers ‘state aid’ rules do not apply
‘This scheme would not be supporting drivers to be paid not to work, it would be incentivising them to return to or continue working. It should be easy to set up as entry level to funding would be via a simple ‘existing licensing provability by drivers’ (say licensed in the past three years), which would be easy for licensing authorities to manage.
‘Unlike many self-employed individuals, Taxi & Private Hire Vehicle Drivers have considerable unavoidable overheads to maintain their ‘ability to work’ status.
‘I have spoken to several Taxi & Private Hire Trade organisations, Vehicle Owners, Drivers & Operators, licensing authorities and licensing officers and all believe this could be a potential ‘life-saver’ for the sector.
‘I have also mentioned my idea to Department for Transport officials who are looking to assist taxi and PHV drivers, and in a conference call recently with Baroness Vere, I referenced the lack of direct support. Given that billions have been given to various sectors in support, often with no work outcome, I believe this scheme would deliver positive outcomes for all concerned.
‘Below is a sample of the licensing costs from Licensing Authorities in England, similar costs apply in other parts of the UK.
‘The LPHCA will be launching a campaign in support of my idea, which to date has received positive feedback from all I have spoken to.
‘Quite independently of the LPHCA, which of course is Apolitical, MPs and councillors across the UK have been stating that the pandemic has had a huge impact on the taxi and private hire vehicle industry and drivers are struggling. They are, so please, with colleagues in the Treasury, kindly give this viable ‘back to work’ orientated scheme your most urgent consideration.’