Blackpool taxi boss defends licensing his drivers in Wolverhampton
Blackpool taxi drivers are being licensed in Wolverhampton prompting claims some cabbies are bypassing the resort’s tougher regulations aimed at protecting standards.
New private hire drivers recruited by Premier Taxis are among those applying to Wolverhampton Council instead of Blackpool Council for licences, meaning they are regulated by officers based more than 100 miles away.
They are among thousands of drivers around the country taking advantage of the cheaper and quicker licensing regime offered by the Midlands city.
In Blackpool a three year licence costs £250 – more than double the £120 charged in Wolverhampton.
A change in the law in 2015 allowed private hire drivers, who must be pre-booked, to operate in a different area from where they obtained a licence.
The change does not affect hackney cabs which can be flagged down on the street, and remain in the control of the local authority they work in.
John Cutler, managing director of Premier Taxis based on Lytham Road, said using Wolverhampton’s licensing service meant he could give drivers jobs more quickly.
He said: “Due to Covid we’ve lost hundreds of thousands of pounds and this is a way of getting drivers back to work quickly.
“All our drivers are from the Blackpool area and are people wanting to get back into employment.
“I think Blackpool is going to have a bumper season once things reopen, and we will need these drivers.”
So far Premier has licensed 20 new drivers through Wolverhampton, with 150 vehicles still registered with Blackpool.
Mr Cutler said it took 10 days to get a new driver licensed through Wolverhampton, compared to a longer process with Blackpool.
He added this included a DBS (criminal conviction) check and measures to ensure vulnerable passengers were protected, while the firm had its own standards on quality.
Drivers do not need to pass a knowledge test, but Mr Cutler said they used GPS tracking to reach destinations.
Customers with complaints would need to contact Wolverhampton Council, but Mr Cutler said: “Our standards of service are taken very seriously and if there are any complaints we follow them up.”
But Dee Grant, a director of C Cabs, based in Caunce Street, said there were no assurances drivers not licensed in Blackpool would operate to higher standards expected in the town.
She warned: “These drivers do not take the Blackpool knowledge test or take the customer service NVQ.
“Blackpool enforcement has no control over these vehicles.
“It is more expensive to be licensed through Blackpool Council but the checks are stringent and at the end of the day it’s about vehicle safety and customer safety. That is paramount.”
Blackpool Council said its focus was on ‘preserving public safety.”
Licensing committee chairman Coun Adrian Hutton said: “Our primary focus during our driver licensing process is to preserve public safety by ensuring that a wide range of driver checks and assessments are undertaken before an individual can drive a licensed vehicle.
“When Blackpool Council grants an application the driver will have met some very stringent requirements and meet specific standards. These range from a DBS check, medical to a knowledge test, as well as other criteria.
“This process may in some individual cases take more time than others because it relies on robust checks that the information supplied is current and valid.
“We believe that it is our duty and responsibility to adopt this rigorous approach and invest time and resource into this important regulatory licensing service provision.”
Blackpool Council’s policy for private hire drivers includes they must pass the knowledge test of roads and landmarks. The test also includes questions on taxi law and policy, the Highway Code and the safeguarding of children and adults.
Drivers must also pass a medical examination, and agree to a dress code
A freedom of information request found Wolverhampton Council had handed out 15,000 private hire licences in 2019, bringing in nearly £3.7m in fees.
It licences drivers from around the UK including Scotland, Manchester and Nottingham.
The council says it oversees enforcement operations all over the country, and any profits it makes from licensing go back into the scheme.
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