Anger has followed the bid to freeze licence fees for taxi drivers in Wokingham being thrown out.

During a meeting of the licensing and appeals committee earlier this year, it was suggested fees for licensed taxi drivers in Wokingham should be frozen.

Previously, licence fees for hackney carriages and private hire drivers, stood at £248, but this has since been increased by £42 to £290 for this financial year (2021/22).

There were discussions about an increase in March 2020, but these appear to have been reversed because of the impact of the pandemic.

Yet a bid to keep the licence fees at £248 appears to have been ignored by Wokingham Borough Council's executive committee. 

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At a meeting of licensing and appeals committee in June, Councillor Rachel Burgess (Labour, Norreys) proposed freezing licence fees for private hire vehicles a second time.

She also suggested that any driver who had paid the higher fee of £290 should be reimbursed the extra £42 they paid, in a motion which was seconded by  Cllr Sarah Kerr (Liberal Democrats, Evendons) and passed.

But when Cllr Kerr followed up on whether the taxi drivers had been reimbursed, it has been claimed that the suggestion was never properly decided upon  by the council's executive.

This was revealed at the licensing meeting yesterday (Wednesday, October 21).

Responding to Cllr Kerr's question, Stephen Brown, the interim assistant director of place at Wokingham Borough Council said: "The short answer is no. The executive made a decision that they would not continue to subsidise taxi licence, and that they would revert to the fares that were originally subscribed, so there were no refunds."

Cllr Kerr replied: "When was that decision made? We were not aware that the executive had turned down a recommendation of this committee."

Sean Murphy, public protection manager, said: "We did take that away as a suggestion, because obviously it's not within the gift of this committee to set fees or to reduce fees, it is only in the gift of the committee to recommend something.

"We did take that away and there was no appetite to take that up."

Cllr Kerr said: "I appreciate we're not decision-making, we make recommendations but that should have formally gone to the executive, and for there to be no public meeting to decide otherwise. Something doesn't smell right here, sorry."

The chairman of the committee Barrie Patman (Conservative, Shinfield South) asked for an investigation to be held into how the decision was made.

In a statement to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Cllr Burgess, who proposed the licence fee subsidy, said: “Taxi drivers have been impacted enormously by the pandemic with many of them unable to work for long periods of time. On top of that, their license fees have been increased. Given everything they have gone through, with some resorting to foodbanks and many struggling to make ends meet, to freeze their fees was the right thing to do and was fully supported by the licensing committee.

"It’s just not realistic or right to expect our drivers to be able to pay fees at this level when for much of the past 18 months they have been unable to work. They have been paying a license fee during the pandemic for a job they have largely not been able to do, and now they are expected to pay even more.

"The Conservative leadership did not even have the courage to discuss the recommendation at a public meeting of the executive.  Instead, the recommendation from the licensing committee appears to have been simply ignored. A recommendation that would not be material to the council’s finances – but would be material to individual drivers.

"Apart from the impact on drivers and their families, this decision simply not to discuss the licensing committee’s recommendation undermines democracy at Wokingham Borough Council. The executive is within their right to vote down a recommendation of a committee. What they are not entitled to do is to pretend we do not exist. It is disgraceful."

Cllr Bill Soane, executive member for neighbourhoods and communities, said: “Wokingham borough’s taxi license fees were much lower than those in other local authorities. We made a decision three years ago to gradually increase them over three years to bring them in line with the fees in other areas.

“The pandemic has impacted all of our residents, including taxi drivers. We have worked very hard to help residents with access to government Covid grants, and taxi drivers are eligible to apply for these grants.

“The licensing committee does not have the authority to set fees, only to make recommendations to full council. If the council agrees to the recommendations, then the money will need to be found elsewhere.”