Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Another democratic deficit

As someone with a bit of an interest in the licensing legislation, I've been following with interest the recent News of the World revelations about a multi-million pounds 'black market' in taxi licences.

Only one of the complainants is actually named in the NotW articles, and this individual has subsequently been subject to some abusive and threatening messages on taxi trade discussion forums. For example:
Seen JUDAS ****** looking very sheepish when he was fueling up at montrose terrace making sure no one was around .Has he changed garage is he hidding from anyone. Hope he meets with a accident sooner rather than later, maybe he's worked that one out that's how he wears pampers so as not to soil the sheet sorry seat . remember keep lickin JUDAS [Real name omitted]
A subsequent allegation is that the individual in question once assaulted his wife, but the charges were dropped, hence he has a grudge against the council. Of course, if the allegation is true then this certainly greatly diminishes the individual concerned, but this isn't really of any great relevance to the substance of the newspaper exposé on the black market. And, naturally, the abusive and threatening messages are being meted out by people cowering behind pseudonyms.

But it's thus perhaps unsurprising that the two NotW articles rely almost wholly on anonymous sources, despite the fact that the market in licences has been going on for many years, covers quite a few local authorities and has been known about by one of the quoted politicians for a considerable time. A related issue is that the drivers hired by the licence holders are casually employed, thus can be sacked on the whim of the vehicle owners. Thus they tend to keep their heads down.

But this seems typical of the kind of mess generated by political neglect and sucking up to vested interests. At least one of the holier-than-thou councils promising to investigate any irregularities has been aware of what's being going on for years, but has done nothing, and instead the result is the hate and vitriol directed towards any heretic who's willing to as much as state the facts and raise questions about what's going on.

Clearly the 'new politics' hasn't yet extended to taxi licensing.


theshooglypeg said...

Interesting stuff: this does seem like one of these problems that could be easily solved with a concerted effort and some thought put into designing a solution. So you can only assume that the reason no-one has done this is that it's not in their interests to. What's the situation in those local authorities in England where restricted licences have been abolished: have they come up with something better that could be imported into Scotland?

Stuart Winton said...

Indeed, theshooglypeg, it's certainly not in the interests of many to do anything about it. Clearly those with plates worth £50,000 - and related rental income while they hold it - don't want the plug pulled, while the politicians won't want to do it either because they know who'll get the blame.

Which indeed is why the situation got to where it is today - no one particularly likes to rock the boat, even those drivers who suffer detriment because of it, since they know how much animosity they'll generate if they put their head above the parapet. They fear waking up next to a horse's head, sort of thing.

Essentially the solution is to pull the plug and just endure the animosity and control numbers by way of quality regulation rather than quantity, but that's easier said than done.

In England most of the councils have either never had restricted numbers or the extent of the restriction has been limited - eg total plate values of half a million (say) rather than fifty million in the likes of Edinburgh and Glasgow.

The big bastions of restricted numbers down south such as Manchester and Brighton remain restricted. A biggie that the plug was pulled on was Cardiff, but I think they recently rerestricted because of the amount of cabs clogging up the streets, probably a product of the recession and immigration over the years.