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RISK AND REWARD: Wolverhampton Council on course for record breaking PHV licensing year

Updated: Jan 8, 2023

Image credit: @bexleytaxi (Twitter)

City of Wolverhampton Council (CWC) licensing chiefs have warned there is a risk that their licensing service could over-expand, due to the ‘impossible’ job of judging when demand for new licences will plateau after a record breaking year.

Since demand for minicab services bounced back after the final coronavirus restrictions were lifted, the council have revealed that they are on course to expand their pool of licensed drivers by an astonishing 10,000 in 2022-23.

The comments form part of a CWC update on Private Hire Vehicle (PHV) licensing growth which will be discussed at a Regulatory Committee meeting on 11 January.

It has been recommended that the council continues its ongoing approach to meeting the demand for private hire driver licences despite the risks attached to the growth.

According to the report, excluding London, the largest increase on record is 5,051 drivers for 2018-19, which was Wolverhampton. This is likely to be broken by Wolverhampton again this financial year; as of 15 December 2022, Wolverhampton has 26,745 drivers, an increase of 7,428.

Assuming numbers of drivers have increased to pre-pandemic levels, the Council’s share of PHV drivers (excluding London) is currently 21.6%, up from 17% in 2021-22. However, given that there are three more months, it is likely that the increase will approach 10,000, which is double the previous largest increase in a single year.

Wolverhampton officials have blamed other local authorities for pushing out of area applicants their way due to higher licensing fees and slower processing times.

Greg Bickerdike, City of Wolverhampton Council Licensing Manager, said in the report (1): “Because of the shortage of drivers, Wolverhampton has been inundated with applications from across the country, in part due to slow processing times and high fees in their home authority. This has created a backlog of applications.

“The service is struggling to meet demand. As of 15 December 2022, there are 2,634 applications in the queue, which is approximately a two month wait. There are currently 1,924 applications which have been processed but are awaiting information from the applicant. There are 927 drivers who are awaiting a hearing to determine their application.”

The report added: “Excluding London, Wolverhampton’s projected growth in drivers this financial year is greater than the growth of all other English licensing authorities combined over any of the last five years.

“The Council must cautiously grow the service to meet demand and compliance needs, by balancing the risks of overemployment with poor customer service by a short-staffed service.

“The Council has recruited 20 employees into the service this year, to meet this demand. More licensees also leads to more compliance work and more licence reviews, which requires appropriately trained decision makers.

“There is a risk that the service will over-expand, as it is impossible to judge when the demand for new licences will plateau.

“Due to the cost-of-living crisis, there is likely to be an increase in applications from those who are concerned about job security and wish to obtain a licence as a hedge against redundancy.

“There is currently a queue of 5,000 for the driver training programme. This is approximately five months work, including the current two-month backlog. However, there is a risk that as the backlog reduces, demand increases proportionally due to the short waiting times for processing. Once the backlog is cleared, correct and complete applications will be issued for collection the next working day.

“To mitigate the risk of over recruitment and potential redundancies, the Council will continue to use agency resource to eliminate the backlog of applications. Agency resources are trained to the same high standard as full time employees, no short cuts are taken. Public safety remains of paramount importance.”



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