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The region’s drivers react to new taxi grant

One cab firm owner called the sum being offered by the Scottish Government an "insult" and said rural taxi companies are losing out on funds.

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By Donald Turvill
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The region's drivers react to new taxi grant

LOCAL cabbies have reacted to news that additional Covid-19 support funds have been made available for them — with some accusing minsters of offering up scanty sums and slamming the initial exclusion of drivers receiving benefits.

The Scottish Government announced on Monday that eligible drivers will receive a £1500 grant to cover fixed costs such as licence fees and insurance on vehicles.

Responding to the announcement, Karen Gass, who runs PA Taxis in Lockerbie, said her firm would “really make use of it,” adding: “Business is really, really quiet.”

However, she is yet to be contacted regarding the grant and said: “I looked it up on the website and it said the council will get in touch with me.”

When first announced, it emerged that many would not find themselves eligible for the funds, as the Government announced that recipients of state benefit payments would not meet the criteria.

But ministers swiftly executed a u-turn on the issue following cross-party criticism, announcing yesterday that those receiving universal credit would be accepted for the grant.

Peter, from Wagners Taxis in Ecclefechan, said he would “absolutely” benefit from the funds, adding: “I’ve had virtually no income since March.

“Those grants that were coming out, some businesses were getting £10,000 and stuff like that – I got £103 to last me three months and they penalised us because my wife’s got a part-time job.”

Peter, who has recently been receiving state benefits, which taxi drivers were urged to claim by the Scottish Government early on in the pandemic, said the initial disqualification of drivers like him created a “Catch 22,” adding: “If you claimed for one then you would get nothing as a lump.”

Following yesterday’s u-turn, he said: “They’re trying to keep whatever money they can and not give it to anybody. I just don’t know, we’re going to get something but whether we’ll get anything again who knows.

“And because everything’s shut down, we don’t have any have any customers or income.”

Dougie Thomson, who runs Woodgrove Taxis in Dumfries said: “It sounds like a lot of money but it’s not, especially now when we’re a year into it and we’ve had no other help. A lot of taxi companies out there now have got a lot of finance, so how do they pay that? It’s alright for them (the Government) to say ‘we’ll give you this and that,’ but it’s certainly not coming to the price that we need.”

Asked what difference the new payment will make to drivers he replied “none at all.”

Dougie continued: “We’ve been here for a about three years doing the taxis now; we’ve done alright out of it but I’d have liked to have seen a bit more help. We’ve never heard a thing, the only thing I heard was that we could claim this grant at the start, we claimed it, but a year down the line this is what’s coming out now — £1500 is not a lot of money.”

He said due to the precarious situation drivers are “handing their taxi badges in left, right and centre,” adding: “We depend on airports, trains and pubs and we’re getting nothing — it’s a waste of time being out there.”

Sharon Willacy, part owner of Auberge taxis in Annan, accused the Government of only making the grant sufficient for drivers in cities and large urban areas. She said: “In cities, the majority of drivers are self-employed and own their cars. Now, in smaller rural places once again we’ve lost out because I have all the operator licenses, I own all the cars and I employ our drivers, so none of my drivers are going to get it. I will get one payment for one car, and I have six on the road. The council made me put them all through taxi tests last September and I’ve already had letters off them to do the tests again in March—it costs about £500 a car to get them through. I have to pay for all that.”

She called the money on offer an “insult” and added: “£1500 for a taxi firm, the overheads are unbelievably high, and we’re in lockdown just now so are making very little money even though we’re still running. The payment I’ll get will cover one weeks wages. And that’s all it will do.”

South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth said: “Taxi drivers have seen a massive drop in passenger numbers since the start of the pandemic a year ago.

“As a result, many applied for benefits because they had no choice given the utter lack of help from the Scottish Government.

“It was deeply unfair that the Scottish Government initially said they would deny taxi drivers on benefits any help, so I welcome this u-turn.”

But he criticised the amount of money being made available, pointing out the Welsh Government are currently providing up to £4000.

He added: “I hope the Scottish Government will rethink their proposals further and increase support.”

Galloway and West Dumfries MSP Finlay Carson echoed the sentiment and said: “My hope is that the money will be released as quickly as possible to help ease the financial strain being felt in this sector.

“Like so many other businesses, they need the financial support now and not weeks down the line.”

And the SNP’s Emma Harper added: “Many of these drivers in Dumfries and Galloway have gone above and beyond the call of duty by providing transport for key workers and taking people safely to hospital appointments.

“This substantial increase in support for them is the recognition they deserve in what has been a tough time for the industry due to the lockdown restrictions.”

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