Private hire firms face new rules to tackle crime gangs

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TAXI and private hire firms in the Capital are facing tighter controls in a bid to drive out the influence of organised crime.

Gangsters using companies as “fronts” have previously been targeted by police investigating potential money-
laundering operations.

Now the Scottish Government has launched a consultation on the licensing regime amid fears over the involvement of organised crime gangs in the cab trade.

Police and council chiefs welcomed the move, which aims to tighten up the licensing process for taxi and private hire car drivers, vehicles and booking offices. The new proposals include allowing local authorities to restrict the number of private hire cars, and to require drivers to be tested on their knowledge of the area.

Under the plans, the licensing scheme would be extended to cover businesses with fewer than four cars and without offices. Any applicant for a licence, whether drivers or booking office staff, would have to prove they were “fit and proper”.

Councillor Gavin Barrie, convener for the city council’s licensing sub-committee, said: “We welcome the proposals to review the current licensing regime for taxi and private hire operators and will feed back our comments to the Scottish Government at the earliest opportunity.”

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

A Lothian and Borders Police spokesman said: “We support any measures which assist us in our efforts to tackle crime and keep our communities safe.”

As far back as 2007, city leaders were calling for tougher taxi licence rules over fears that west coast businessmen with criminal links were looking to move into the Capital’s private hire trade.

Keith Bell, secretary of Sighthill, Broomhouse and Parkhead Community Council, and the former chairman of lobby group CABforce, said: “Ensuring drivers are ‘fit and proper’ people is to welcomed to make journeys safer for the travelling public.” “Checks of staff at booking offices is also a good idea.”

Justice Secretary Kenny 
MacAskill said: “While the vast majority of taxi firms operate within the law, this will address the influence of criminal groups and individuals within the taxi and private hire trades.”