Over the past year, The Scottish Private Hire Association campaigned to eliminate a license condition requiring Glasgow's private hire cars to display a 'backflash'. Essentially, a backflash is a sizeable window sticker on the rear screen containing details of the affiliated booking office for the car.
On Wednesday 9th August 2023, our campaign concluded in success as Glasgow's Licensing Committee voted in favour of scrapping the backflash requirement.
This marks a pivotal moment for our trade. As Colin Dodds, the lead representative of the GMB Union's professional driver branch, noted in a recent online video, the SPHA has made history.
This decision acknowledges the self employed status of private hire drivers and car operators. It recognises they are free to choose who to work with at any given time. It also recognises that they can work with multiple suppliers simultaneously.
The backflash requirement previously imposed an implied limitation on self-employed freedoms. It suggested that drivers were restricted to a single booking office. This stance was inconsistent with the practical dynamics of self-employment and the regulatory framework of the trade.
The Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982, and specifically the 2009 amendment on booking offices, is the starting point. The Act provides an exemption from requiring a booking office license for booking operations involving three or less cars. This exemption empowers micro-businesses and sole traders to operate without a booking office license. This, in turn, allows them to advertise for private work and manage their own bookings. However, the backflash policy caused issues with this in Glasgow.
While a sole trader could operate legally without a booking office license under the 1982 Act, Glasgow's policy forced them to breach license conditions whenever such bookings took place. One of two scenarios emerged. First, these jobs were carried out without displaying a backflash, which is a clear violation. Secondly, these jobs were carried out while displaying a backflash linked to a company unrelated to the specific booking. There was no avenue for these lawful bookings to take place without infringing upon licence conditions.
A similar situation emerges for solo operators securing work through aggregator services - a legitimate and legal approach to conducting self employed business in the Scottish private hire trade. However, drivers engaging in this manner would still breach conditions.
By scrapping the backflash requirement, driver/operators in Glasgow can now fully leverage the opportunities available to them as self-employed sole traders, without the risk of violating licensing conditions. This achievement stands as a significant victory for the trade, reaffirming the self-employed status of private hire drivers and underscoring their autonomy in sourcing bookings, choosing collaborators, and engaging with multiple platforms.
Drivers are now able to fully embrace their entrepreneurial spirit to secure their own bookings without contravening the backflash licensing condition.
However, it's important to stress the legal obligations of drivers and car operators, particularly against engaging in piracy. This regulatory change does not grant permission to solicit or ply for immediate street hires. While private work can be secured without a booking office, all hires must be pre-booked, and accurate records should be kept.
This change of rules takes effect from January 2024. This change marks a historic milestone for self-employed private hire drivers, signifying a defining moment in the industry.