Chief executive apologises after cabbies were blocked from entering Wakefield Council meeting to discuss taxi trade licensing changes

Wakefield Council’s chief executive has apologised to taxi drivers after they were blocked from entering a public meeting.

By Tony Gardner
Thursday, 28th July 2022, 11:17 am
Updated Thursday, 28th July 2022, 11:19 am

A group of drivers were refused entry into Wakefield’s County Hall to attend a licensing committee meeting about the taxi trade.

Security staff eventually allowed the cabbies in after a 25-minute stand-off once the local authority’s chief executive Andrew Balchin had been informed of the situation.

Most of the agenda items had been dealt with by the time the group gained entry to the meeting.

Members of Wakefield Drivers Association pictured outside County Hall, in Wakefield. The Council's chief executive has apologised to the drivers after they were blocked from entering a public meeting over changes to the taxi trade.

There were angry scenes in the council chamber as the meeting was closed.

One of the protesters said to councillors: “We have been blocked from coming in for 25 minutes.

“This is supposed to be a council meeting open to the public.

“It is absolutely disgusting.

“It took the chief executive to get us in. It’s supposed to be a public forum. This is the death of democracy.”

Last week, drivers held a demonstration outside Wakefield Town Hall ahead of a full Council meeting to discuss making changes to “unfair” taxi licensing regulations.

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Wakefield Drivers Association (WDA) want the local authority to scrap the so-called ‘six point ban’ and relax other rules, including extending the life of taxi vehicles, as they struggle during the cost of living crisis.

Currently, taxi drivers who rack up more than six points on their licence in three years face lengthy bans from the trade.

Councillors rejected the proposals but said many of the drivers’ concerns would be addressed at yesterday’s licensing committee meeting.

After the meeting, Nadeem Ahmed, Conservative councillor for Wakefield South, said he contacted Mr Balchin after receiving a phone call from drivers about being refused entry.

He said: “These people are hard working taxpayers and they came here to exercise their democratic right.

“They were promised their concerns would be considered at a public meeting which they were then stopped from attending. It’s wrong.”

Coun Akef Akbar, Independent councillor for Wakefield East, said: “I think that the taxi drivers’ voices are being blocked from being heard.

“I am quite surprised that there are two security guards here today.

“I have never seen them used before for anything since I was elected, either here or at the Town Hall.

“It is quite obvious they are here for these guys.”

Tony Homewood, licensing committee member and Conservative councillor for Ossett, spoke with the taxi drivers after the meeting and told them he also planned to raise the issue with the chief executive.

He said: “When I came I was allowed to go straight into the building and no one stopped me.”

After the meeting, Mr Balchin issued a statement which read : “Our licensing committee meetings are open to the public to ensure that all decisions are seen to be open and transparent.

“We are sorry that on this occasion a miscommunication meant that some people were not initially allowed into the meeting.

“This was resolved as quickly as possible, although we accept this has caused upset to those initially unable to access the meeting.

“We would like to reassure people that we are taking steps to ensure as far as possible that this does not happen again.”