Thousands of minicab drivers flock to 'lenient' Wolverhampton for the licences


Thousands of private hire drivers are reportedly flocking to Wolverhampton for their minicab licences after claims the Black Country council are now ‘more lenient’.


It has been claimed that would-be cabbies are heading to the area rather than battle through tougher application processes in areas like Birmingham.


Wolverhampton City Council has been accused by councillors of handing minicab licences out ‘like sweeties’ and allegedly undermining public safety across the West Midlands.


But Wolverhampton Council's licensing chairman Alan Bolshaw said they are safe and the reason for an increase in applications was because of their online digital application system.


He said while other councils have "an old fashioned paper-based, face to face system which takes months where as our state of the art digital system takes days due to the investment we have made. Our process is award-winning."


The licensing authority has gone from granting under 1,000 private hire driver licences a year up to 2015 to almost 5,000 last year it has been revealed following a Freedom of Information Act request.


Meanwhile its income from licences has soared from under £250,000 per year to almost £800,000 in 2016/17.


In fact during the last year more minicabs were registered in Wolverhampton than Birmingham, even though it is only a third of the size.


Hundreds, if not thousands, of those Wolverhampton licenced drivers are now working regularly in other towns and cities including Coventry, where 241 were identified, and Birmingham. They have even been found on the roads of Manchester .


Now Birmingham and Coventry councillors are demanding a standard set of regulations across the West Midlands. For example strict new restrictions on carbon emissions and pollution for Birmingham cabs will not apply to out of town taxis.


Coventry licensing committee member Damian Gannon said: “Wolverhampton City Council is clearly handing private hire licenses out like sweeties and don’t give a damn about how it makes the taxi and private hire trades unaccountable to Coventry residents.


“Ideally, the private hire trade should be accountable to Coventry residents so if you drive a minicab in Coventry, you should be accountable in Coventry. At the moment Wolverhampton are exploiting a gap in the licensing regulations to make as much money as they can and that is just plain wrong.


“Treating private hire  licensing as a cash-cow undermines local democracy, it undermines public safety and it undermines the ability of minicab drivers to make a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.”


There are similar anxieties in Birmingham over the ‘race to the bottom’ in taxi regulation and questions over the ability of licensing officials in one city to oversee their drivers in another.


Councillor Barbara Dring suggested highlighting poor hygiene in kitchens across Birmingham is wrong - despite it being part of her job.

Licensing committee chairwoman Barbara Dring said that they are in talks with other West Midlands councils, including Wolverhampton, as well as lobbying Government to bring in a national set of standards for the cab trade.


She said: “This has been brought about by the de-regulation of the taxi and private hire trade . Wolverhampton’s conditions are somewhat different to the other areas and we do not have the powers to take action against their drivers operating in Birmingham.”


Birmingham’s head of licensing Chris Neville said: “We have started conversations with other West Midlands authorities over establishing shared conditions as far as we possibly can and that is in its early stages.”


A spokesman for Wolverhampton council said: “We would welcome greater consistency in the way taxi driver licences are granted and the standards that are applied. We are in discussions with the other West Midlands authorities about this, but we must stress this is a national issue and not just a regional one.”


Wolverhampton licensing officials have met with their Coventry counterparts.


The spokesman added: “We agreed on many issues including the need for the robust training which includes English language skills, safeguarding, child sexual exploitation, disability, passenger safety amongst other topics. The Coventry delegation were reassured that the standards applied to Wolverhampton drivers were similar to those applied to Coventry drivers."


But there are differences of opinion over local knowledge testing with Wolverhampton believing a sat nav is all that is necessary for a minicab drivers. Wolverhampton argues it is the fast track online application process which is proving popular with drivers.


Steep rise in licences granted in Wolverhampton


Licences granted for private hire cars in Wolverhampton


2012/13 - 631


2013/14 - 639


2014/15 - 780


2015/16 - 929


2016/17 - 2,049


Licences granted for private hire drivers


2012/13 - 929


2013/14 - 927 + 47 dual badges


2014/15 - 948 + 85 dual badges


2015/16 - 1,233 + 127 dual badges


2016/17 - 4,989 + 160 dual badges


Income from private hire licence applications


2012/13 - £205,576


2013/14 - £224,574


2014/15 - £262,523


2015/16 - £289,932


2016/17 - £798,958


Source : Birmingham Mail .



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