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Sunday, June 26, 2022

Kirklees taxi drivers say risk to livelihood is racist

Taxi drivers in Kirklees are worried about a safety policy that could affect licences.

Taxi drivers in Kirklees have attacked a “pure racism” council safety policy that could lead to licences being revoked if drivers accrue more than six penalty points in a year.

They say the authority’s suitability and convictions policy is unfair and akin to “apartheid”.

However, Kirklees Council says it is not changing its fitness and suitability policy, which was adopted in 2019 and already meets the minimum standards set out by the Department for Transport (DfT).

Kirklees Council says the overriding aim of the licensing services is “the safety of the travelling public”.

Taxi spokesman Akooji Badat has denounced the suitability policy as racist. Image: LDRS.

It says a licence holder must be “a fit and proper person” and that a judgement is made following a detailed examination of their entire character to determine their fitness and suitability.

If an applicant cannot satisfy the authority that they are a fit and proper person, then legislation dictates a licence must not be granted.

The policy is based on standards produced by the DfT, which say taxis and private hire vehicles represent “a high-risk environment”.

That guidance states: “In terms of risks to passengers, this can be seen in abuse and exploitation of children and vulnerable adults facilitated and, in some cases, perpetrated by the trade and the number of sexual crimes which involve taxi and private hire drivers.”

However, campaigners for the taxi trade say drivers in the borough, the majority of whom are Asian, are being “stereotyped as sex predators”.

Spokesman Akooji Badat said the policy was connected to cases of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham and Rochdale where girls were collected from school gates and driven away in taxis to be abused.

Some of the men who carried out attacks were taxi drivers.

In a passionate address to Kirklees Council’s Licensing and Safety Committee, yesterday, in Huddersfield Town Hall, Mr Akoojii Badat said: “This all boils down to Rochdale and Rotherham and what happened there. Are we getting tarnished for that?

“Why are you just stereotyping taxi drivers as though they are some kind of sex predator? What happened in Rochdale and Rotherham has nothing to do with us.”

Drivers have already gone on strike in Leeds over a similar “draconian” policy and there were intimations that similar industrial action could take place in Kirklees.

Fellow campaigner Hasan Badat said urged the council to “get to the heart of the matter”, which had dragged on for “decades”. He said taxi drivers were “crying out” to be heard.

He said: “We don’t want them doing protests in an ideal world or taking legal action but people are getting wise and beginning to consider their options.”

He said the policy proposal “beggars belief”.

He added: “The fact that you are going to lose your bread and butter if you get more than six points, that is just absolutely ridiculous not to mention racist given that the majority of the taxi drivers are from a particular community.

“Whether you call it indirect racism or institutional racism, I’ll leave that for others to work out. But that’s just not on, especially when you compare it to drivers in other trades.”

Campaigners say bus drivers or people working within the emergency services are not governed by the same policy.

Mr Hasan Badat called for face-to-face meetings with drivers “in a community setting” that would replace questionnaires and online consultation exercises.

Licensing staff admitted the take-up had been “relatively low” and that a consultation period had been extended twice in order that “important” changes that would “impact on the trade” could be considered.

Committee chair Councillor Amanda Pinnock said she was prepared to meet drivers to listen to their concerns.

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