Taxi operators criticise £1,500 government grant as industry survives by ‘skin of its teeth’

Taxi operators and unions are calling on the Scottish Government to deliver a further grant to ensure the industry survives.

The Taxi Federation criticised the decision to provide drivers with a one-off £1,500 grant as “political”, while Unite the Union compared it with the £5,000 in funding for wedding cake makers.

Murray Fleming, secretary of the Scottish Taxi Federation, said he has been in conversation with ministers in order to try and secure more funding for drivers.

The association estimated that a grant closer to £25,000 – on a scaled system – was required to save the sector.

Fleming commented: “I think it was politically driven by the decision with an election coming up to appease all these taxi drivers – they were shocked when we told them that many of the drivers had decided to spend that money on a holiday.

“The max any operator can get is £25,000 – as bigger companies would be able to cancel the license and insurance for the vehicles they aren’t using.

“Many of the drivers have left and found employment that offers holiday and sick pay – the government needs to make a decision about the future of the industry.”

As 90% of the taxi drivers are self-employed and the majority rent their vehicles, paying day fees of around £25, which covers the license and all the kit that comes with it. Fleming said it cost him about £1,500 a month just to cover his overheads.

Many taxi operators are in debt after shelling out for new electric taxis in order to operate in Glasgow and Edinburgh city centres, due to the new laws on emissions.

One taxi association said that the government grant helped them survive, but the industry was only getting through by the “skin of its teeth” and more needed to be done.

Unite called on the Scottish Government to deliver a £10,000 grant for each taxi operator, which is the equivalent support being given to other small business owners.

It also demanded an additional second cash grant to drivers from the £57m Coronavirus Taxi and Private Hire Driver Support Fund.

A recent Scottish Parliament Petition lodged by Unite in March, calling for more support for the taxi trade, has gained thousands of signatures, but no action has yet been taken.

In December, an online survey of over 200 taxi drivers released by Unite Scotland highlighted that many drivers are regularly working 16 or 17 hour days, with a shift being determined as having been ‘good’ if £50 is cleared.

The survey also showed that 30% of drivers had at the time been unable to access any financial help from government support schemes.

For those that had been able to access financial help from the government, the biggest group (37%) reported that it represented less than a quarter of their average earnings.

Yesterday, Dundee City Council announced that taxi and private hire drivers would be entitled to a £1,000 grant, with the union suggesting that all local authorities in Scotland follow the city’s lead.

Unite industrial officer Willie Thomson said: “It’s desperately needed for many drivers whose income has been and continues to be decimated by Covid and the current restrictions.

“Other councils including those of our largest cities, Glasgow and Edinburgh, must follow Dundee’s lead and do more to help workers and families in the taxi trade.”

“Through no fault of their own, many of our members have been refused support over the past 12 months – they continue to face significant financial hardship as a result of drastically reduced trade.

“Taxis remain a vital part of our public transport network and more support from the Scottish Government must be delivered,” he added. “The government must recognise the high fixed costs faced by many taxi operators and deliver support to these workers.”

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