UNION leaders are racing against the clock in their bid to persuade the public to back a battle to halt controversial changes to the regulations governing private hire firms.
The Deregulation Bill is up for debate in Parliament in early June and aims to match rules which govern the industry across much of England with those applied to firms in London.
But chair of the Leeds branch of Unite, Paul Landau, claims clauses added by ministers with little consultation could make it easier for rogue firms to operate under the radar.
“Only a small number of private hire firms are in our membership but, on this occasion, our concern is public safety,” he said. “It seems ridiculous that the Government is trying to impose regulations used in London on the rest of the UK. We’d argue it ought to be the other way around.”
If approved, Clause Eight of the new bill would allow any driver to use a private hire vehicle if it’s not on duty. The change would allow private hire drivers and their families to use their vehicles as normal cars when they’re not on duty.
However, Unite fears there would be so many grey areas less reputable firms could also allow non-regulated drivers to carry passengers, which would leave them uninsured and at risk.
In a bid to enhance competition and spread good practice, Clause Nine of the Bill would allow a licensed driver to use a private hire vehicle legally in any part of England.
However, opponents are concerned rogue firms could flood local authorities with more relaxed rules on private hire licences with applications, leaving councils with more stringent controls powerless to punish errant drivers or remove them from the roads.
Organisations joining Unite in opposing the new clauses include the GMB and RMT, the Local Government Association, the National Association of Licensing and Enforcement Officers, the Association of Chief Police Officers, The Suzy Lamplugh Trust and the National Private Hire Association.
However Mr Landau is urging the public to lobby their MPs on the issue ahead of a debate in parliament on June 5.
A spokesman for Leeds City Council added: “We have significant concerns about de-regulation of private hire vehicles and a report is being prepared for the licensing committee so members can decide on how to further approach this.
“The purpose of the bill is to remove bureaucracy but this issue is seen as a significant public safety matter.”