Taxi rules call to slam door on gangsters muscling in to trade

CITY leaders are calling for tougher taxi licence rules to stop Glasgow gangsters buying into the Capital.

Fears have been growing over the past year that west coast businessmen looking to move into the city's private hire trade may have links with criminal gangs.

The Scottish Government is currently consulting on legislation which will see the mandatory licensing of taxi and private hire booking offices.

The changes, which are set to be in place by the autumn, have won the backing of council chiefs and it is hoped they will help flush out criminal links to the trade. Taxi and private hire operators will be forced to apply for a licence, and all bookings and fares will be officially logged under the new powers, which also give police power of entry into cab offices.

The new laws have won the backing of the trade and Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill.

Mr MacAskill, the MSP for Edinburgh East and Musselburgh, said: "Edinburgh has been very well serviced by the taxi and private hire trade over the years.

"We know there are problems with the trade in other cities in Scotland and frankly, we don't want them coming into our city.

"That is why we need to have proper legislation that fills the gap in terms of the lack of controls on who operates a cab booking office."

One of the big changes the legislation will bring will be the requirement to keep a record of every booking taken, driver attending and the fare paid.

The responsibility for this will fall on the licence holder, who will be expected to take all reasonable steps to ensure vehicles and drivers used are licensed.

Licences will only be handed out at premises which have planning permission to operate as a booking office.

Councillor Colin Keir, convener of the city council's regulatory committee, said: "There have been problems in other parts of the country with the taxi and private hire trade being infiltrated by criminal gangs, and this is not something we want to see in Edinburgh.

"While there are no huge problems in Edinburgh at the moment, it is important we do something proactive to try to raise standards in the trade."

Last year, police chiefs told of their fears that some of Glasgow's most notorious gangsters were attempting to expand their crime empire into the Capital – among them associates of late millionaire gangland boss, Tam McGraw, known as The Licensee.

Officers fear organised criminals could use the taxi and private hire trade to help mask illegal activities, including drug dealing, in the Capital.

Raymond Davidson, secretary of the Edinburgh Taxi Association, said: "I think this is something that will be welcomed in the trade.

"As long as it is not too bureaucratic and it is done legitimately through the police or the cab inspector office, then I think it will help.

"From the passengers' point of view, they will have the added comfort that they know the firm they are calling has been checked out and is above board."