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.
SPHA members in Edinburgh have begun mobilising against council plans to ban private hire cars from George Street in the city's New Town area. Plans for a large scale protest are underway as are talks with various other organisations.
The SPHA has been campaigning in Glasgow for private hire car age limits to be increased to 10 years. Glasgow City Council are now holding a consultation from 16th June to 11th August on the proposal to increase the age limits.
The SPHA held it's inaugural AGM on the 28th of February at a well attended event at The Village Hotel in Glasgow.
The meeting opened with the release of details of the initial members benefit package, which includes offerings from Patons, The Village Hotel and other local businesses including cafes and garages. The interim executive committee then spoke on how they planned to continue adding to their member benefits package over time and across the country. Discussions then followed regarding the SPHA's campaign plans for the future including speaking about lobbying Glasgow City Council to increase their 7 year age limit on private hire cars, fighting for bus lane access for Edinburgh drivers, and campaigning for safety screens to become permanent, post-Covid, for driver safety. Discussions then went on to talk about the SPHA's recent involvement with the Scottish Government as industry stakeholders.
Representatives from the Edinburgh Private Hire Drivers Association (EPHD) were also in attendance and spoke at the meeting. They informed everyone that a number of their members will be joining with the SPHA and will be helping to shape the SPHA's East of Scotland branches. An EPHD spokesperson said, "Everybody here is very passionate, committed and focused on building on their early, major successes, and keeping the momentum going well into the future. This is the first time the Scottish private hire trade has ever had a national association. It’s very encouraging to see the private hire trade come together to ensure we have a strong collective voice for our trade. I’ve every confidence in our newly elected representatives and I encourage all EPHD members to join".
The meeting attendees then went on to formally adopt the association's constitution, which is prefaced with a preamble stating "We are licensed private hire drivers, operating in Scotland, and are convening in a voluntary association to act as representatives of our trade, to serve as stakeholders of our trade, and to campaign for and to work for improvements to our trade. We affirm that we are self employed sole traders and that we are assembling together in solidarity with one another; convinced that such association assures a strong collective voice to represent our individual and shared interests as licensed private hire drivers". Following the constitution's ratification, announcement of election and nomination results took place. Eddie Grice was elected to serve as the SPHA General Secretary, while John Paul Duffy was elected to serve as the Deputy General Secretary. Paul Nelson was elected as Treasurer. James Armstrong was then elected to serve as the Chair for the Glasgow Branch, while Hardeep Singh was elected as Vice Chair. A number of names were then nominated and accepted to serve as committee members for the Glasgow branch. Eddie Grice, the SPHA's newly elected General Secretary, closed the meeting by addressing the membership by saying, "A lot has been mentioned tonight about the measurable successes that the people on this committee have achieved. I just want to say that these are not our successes. They are your successes. Every single time we asked you to contact a councillor and you did it, every single time we asked you to write a letter or email to an MSP and you did it, every time you show up to meetings like this, every single protest you attend, every convoy you took part in. You did it. Not us, you. Any and all successes are your very own."
We are licensed private hire drivers, operating in Scotland, and are convening in a voluntary association to act as representatives of our trade, to serve as stakeholders of our trade, and to campaign for and to work for improvements to our trade. We affirm that we are self employed sole traders and that we are assembling together in solidarity with one another; convinced that such association assures a strong collective voice to represent our individual and shared interests as licensed private hire drivers. We do this while being ever mindful of the principles of solidarity, fellowship, democracy, integrity, honesty, patience, and service.
The SPHA seeks to represent the individual and shared interests of licensed private hire drivers as industry stakeholders and in doing so seek to ensure that all private hire drivers may earn a fair income and that working conditions for private hire drivers are being continuously improved. We seek this while promoting the highest of standards to our customers in terms of customer service and professionalism.
We seek to foster and nurture solidarity, fellowship and co-operation between our members and the wider private hire driver community so that such solidarity, fellowship and co-operation may lead to the free exchange of useful information concerning the trade, a collective spirit of professionalism within the trade, and a shared sense that campaigning and working together for improvements in our trade shall benefit us all.
We seek to engage with local authorities, governments, quangos, licensing authorities, law enforcement, private hire booking offices, employers, and any other party with an interest in the trade or affecting the trade to help deliver continuous improvement to the working conditions and earning potential within the trade.
We also stand to defend our members against threats to their livelihoods, including when a members’ license is under threat, but also including defending members against events that may threaten to worsen working conditions or decrease the earning potential for the trade as a whole.
Finally, we seek to defend our members against threats to their status and rights as a self employed sole trader. In instances where a member is being treated like a worker or an employee, then the SPHA shall support that member in seeking to correct their working conditions to ensure they are treated as self employed else support that member in seeking judicial remedy.
This is an exciting time for the private hire trade in Scotland. In the past few years, we have seen a real groundswell of grassroots activity in our trade with drivers coming together and uniting in a fashion never seen before. We have seen drivers stand in solidarity with one another, aware that campaigning together as a collective can bring positive benefits to the trade. We stood together and fought for support from the Scottish Government and local authorities during the pandemic and by doing so we helped secure financial aid for the trade as well as forcing policy changes on allowing partition screens in private hire cars, extending the implementation of the requirements for SQA certification, and gaining ourselves a seat at the top stakeholder group with the Scottish Government’s Licensing Directorate.
This work will continue. We will lobby Glasgow City Council on vehicle age requirements and seek to engage with them to help improve their services to drivers on licensing documentation. We will campaign in Edinburgh to seek a shift in policy to allow private hire cars to use bus lanes. We will lobby all councils for the permanent permission for private hire cars to keep partition screens on grounds of driver safety. And, we will continue to tirelessly defend and support drivers in Scotland and campaign for the betterment of our trade with the same high energy and indomitable spirit that we always have.
There is, without doubt, a place for trade unions and that place is to serve the drivers out there that want to focus on employment law. However, we have no appetite to continue focusing on issues of employment law as a high priority and we have no desire to see the entire trade move away from being fully self employed. That is not our mission. We want to see positive changes for drivers, particularly in the licensing regime in Scotland. We want to see drivers remain self employed while making a decent income. We want to foster professionalism in the trade and help raise industry standards. We want to defend the livelihoods of drivers against threats to their licenses. These are the fights we want to focus on, and these are the fights that we will fight.
And yours, for the trade,
Eddie Grice, JP Duffy, Paul Nelson, James Armstrong and John Wallace.
The SPHA Interim Executive Committee.