Covid Scotland: Taxi drivers 'pushed into debt' by slow rollout of payments

Taxi and private hire drivers have hit out at the Scottish Government’s slow rollout of Covid-19 support payments which were announced earlier this month.

The Scottish Government announced up to £28 million would be allocated to taxi and private hire drivers and operators on January 5. However, many have been told they will not receive anything until February.

Opposition parties said the Government was being “far too slow” with the payments, while drivers said the delay was pushing them into debt.

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An illuminated taxi sign on a black hackney cab in the West End of Edinburgh. Drivers have hit out over a delay in Covid support payments

Ministers said they would confirm “shortly” how drivers can confirm their eligibility and when payments would be made.

However, this could come too late for one private hire driver, who said he had been forced to use his overdraft and incur debt on credit cards due to Covid restrictions impacting his earnings over the festive period.

Having contacted Conservative MSP Sue Webber about his predicament, Davie Weir called on the Government to do more to help drivers like him.

He said: “I have had absolutely no contact from the SNP Government or Edinburgh City Council in regards to this latest round of funding and the same goes for other taxi and private hire drivers that I speak to.

The Scottish Government has been criticised for taking time to hand out cash for taxi and private hire drivers.

“All our details are already had by the council, so it’s hard to understand why there is such a delay. The Scottish Government were given hundred of millions of extra funding before Christmas and it has not been distributed to any or very few of the businesses who are suffering at the hands of unjust restrictions.”

Scott Blair, a member of the Unite the Union cab branch in Edinburgh, questioned why the funding was announced when it could not be delivered at that point in time.

He said this had provided “false hope” to members of the branch, adding: “We’ve been told that we wouldn’t get any payment until February at the earliest. That was from the Edinburgh City Council licencing department.

"That’s a shocking time to have to wait. Finance companies won’t wait for their payments that we are struggling in this climate to make.

"If they are giving us a payment, it must happen straight away, not a month down the line.”

Ms Webber, the Tory MSP for the Lothian region, said the Government was being “far too slow” getting the “critical funding to drivers”.

She said: “Stories like Davie’s are sadly all too commonplace. Private hire taxi drivers in Edinburgh and elsewhere have been decimated by the pandemic and the restrictions that continue to be in place.

“The SNP’s restrictions over the festive period meant they lost out at their busiest time of the year. Now SNP ministers and the city council are being far too slow in getting this critical funding to them.

“It could make the difference between taxi drivers like Davie being able to continue their livelihood or not.”

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said £375m had been pledged to businesses, with total support for the taxi and private hire sector reaching £107m since the start of the pandemic.

They said: “We are working with local authorities to put in place arrangements to distribute this additional funding to eligible businesses and liaising regularly with trade representatives.

"We will confirm shortly how drivers and operators can verify their eligibility and the timeframe for making payments.”

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