Taxi drivers postpone strike after council agrees review of ‘ruinous’ rules
- Credit: ARCHANT/WEST SUFFOLK COUNCIL
Cabbies who claimed they were left on the breadline through Covid - while the council responsible for licensing them spent thousands of pounds per week on agency workers - have postponed planned strike action.
More than a dozen drivers at companies across Bury St Edmunds, Newmarket, and Haverhill had intended to strike outside the West Suffolk Council offices in central Bury on Monday.
They had raised a series of concerns over the treatment of taxi workers during the pandemic, and expressed fears over additional rules they claimed could threaten livelihoods and force businesses into further financial difficulty.
These included a controversial move to phase out ‘saloon’ cars (which can take up to four passengers) in taxi ranks in favour of wheelchair-accessible vehicles (WAVs).
Hackney Carriage drivers, which rely heavily on customers choosing to use saloons, claimed people with mobility problems cannot effectively access WAVs as many require passengers to ‘step up’ into vehicles.
Mark Goodchild, of Goodchild Cars, said he feared mandating such vehicles could push prices up by as much as £20,000 - and claimed proposals were dropped on them without proper consultation.
Council bosses said the requirement for all new vehicles to be wheelchair accessible is an existing policy and was introduced in 2019 after consultation.
But they pledged to carry out a review this month to ensure the service matches the needs of all taxi users.
Now taxi drivers say they hope the review will include an “around the table meeting” - and say that in the wake of its announcement, they have decided to postpone their strike.
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Council chiefs say this may not be possible given the number of drivers they license - but pledged to contact those on their books individually.
Regarding the use of agency workers, WSC bosses said two licensing department workers costing £1,400 per week were “necessary to ensure there was the right specialist support in the department in the short term”.
Brandon-based driver Marc Barnes had described the payments as a “kick in the teeth” when many drivers were struggling financially - and just 14 had received Covid grants as of the end of March this year, according to a Freedom of Information request.
WSC bosses said 85 drivers had received Covid grants at the end of July.
Announcing the postponement of the strike, drivers from the West Suffolk taxi and private hire forum said: “After 18 months of little engagement with us, WSC has agreed to a review of our concerns so hopefully this will include an around the table meeting.
“We do not want to alienate the public by causing traffic jams while the councillors are away on holiday.
“We want to make sure that in the future there is a balance of cars and wheelchair vehicles so people with other disabilities still have the choice of a car.
“So Monday’s strike has been postponed to a future date.”
A WSC spokesman said it announced the review some weeks ago and its recent communication about it clarified timings.
Council portfolio holder for regulation, Andy Drummond, added: “We welcome the decision by the taxi industry to postpone this protest and look forward to working with them and people with disabilities or their representatives in this review to ensure accessibility for all taxi users.
“The thoughts and views on all sides of this will be valuable and we will look to begin the review within a month.”