The recent News of the World exposé regarding Scotland's black market in taxi licences brought to mind comments last year by justice secretary Kenny MacAskill, which seemed to allude to and endorse the existence of the trade in plates, a trade which MSP Sandra White recently claimed is a "very disturbing problem" and indeed a week later ironically seemed to expect Mr MacAskill to ride to the rescue and sort out.
But going back to last year, in a letter published in the Edinburgh Evening News I mentioned the existence of the trade in licence plates - albeit in terms less stark than a 'black market' - and essentially accused Mr MacAskill of being irresponsible in effectively portraying an 'investment' in a taxi licence as equating to some kind of mainstream business opportunity, rather than the reality of something wholly dependent upon the (rather dubious) regulatory and legal environment.
Having had an interest in all of this for around 15 years I've been surprised that it's never been highlighted, equally surprised that it has now been exposed in the media, but similarly unsurprised that it disappeared as quickly off the radar screen as it appeared and is likely to be swept back under the carpet whence it came.
Anyway, for what it's worth, here's what I said in the letter last year:
"Perhaps misleading is Mr MacAskill's reference to "cabbies who borrow from the bank or mortgage their home to buy a cab". He is perhaps referring to the purchase of a taxi licence rather than a vehicle per se, since the former often costs significantly more than the latter.
"Which perhaps explains the reference to "mortgaging their home", because the value of the licence depends on the regulatory decisions of local authorities and/or central government, not to mention the possibility of adverse legal decisions, therefore banks won't accept the licence value as collateral in view of its inherent risk, thus a loan may be secured against the purchaser's home.
"But the point is that many people like to portray a taxi licence as some sort of gilt-edged investment, whereas the banks' stance on related lending clearly demonstrate that this is not the case. It is thus arguably irresponsible of Mr MacAskill to in effect misrepresent what can amount to a high-risk gamble on the family home."