Supporting Taxi Drivers

– in the Scottish Parliament on 23rd March 2023.

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Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

I encourage those who are leaving the public gallery to do so as quickly and as quietly as possible, as we are resuming business with a members’ business debate on motion S6M-07686, in the name of Pauline McNeill, on supporting taxi drivers. The debate will be concluded without any question being put. I invite members who wish to participate to press their request-to-speak buttons now, or as soon as possible.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises the contribution that taxi drivers make to the economy, connectivity and cultural life of Glasgow and the Greater Glasgow region; believes that taxi drivers provide a vital service to people who have mobility problems that make other forms of public transport unsuitable; understands that the service that taxi drivers provide does much to support what it sees as Glasgow’s important night-time economy and hospitality industry, as well as provide the transport options which contribute to making Glasgow a UNESCO World City of Music; recognises the longstanding charity work carried out by Glasgow’s taxi drivers through events such the Glasgow Taxi Outing To Troon; considers that recent years have brought unprecedented challenges to taxi drivers, with the COVID-19 pandemic reducing passenger numbers, and significant regulation changes from Glasgow City Council mandating vehicle changes which, it believes, are unaffordable to many within the industry; notes the campaign from some taxi drivers for a fair implementation of new regulations, and congratulates the sector for all it contributes to the city.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

Follow that, as they say.

I do not apologise for bringing people back down to earth, though, and I thank members for staying, because it is time to stand up for taxi drivers across the country. Taxis are a vital part of our public transport system. In fact, the taxi sector has become more vital in recent years, due to unreliable train and bus services, which I hope will get better over the years.

This is my first members’ business debate in this session, and I chose to make it about the plight of taxi drivers because the industry needs our focus and immediate action. I, along with many Scottish Labour colleagues, will speak today about our clear support and our demands for the sector. Today, as a Glasgow member, I stand in support of Glasgow taxi drivers, in particular, in order to highlight the contribution that they make to the city’s economy, connectivity and cultural life. As I have said, they play a vital role in our public transport system by plugging the gaps that are left by our unreliable train and bus services and by covering times of the day when other forms of transport are not running.

I worked with taxi drivers in the previous parliamentary session and have, like many other members, been working with them during this session, too, in lobbying Glasgow City Council and the current Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy, Kate Forbes, on their behalf. I believe that they were neglected throughout the pandemic and are being neglected now, with their concerns about the low emission zone that is being introduced in Glasgow—I cannot speak for other cities—being ignored so far.

Glasgow taxi drivers have said that they support the principle of LEZs; all that they have asked for is a short delay of a year to give them time to comply with the scheme. Even if that happens, it will not be enough time for many. Black cabs, in particular, have been an iconic feature of Glasgow city centre, and I do not understand why any city administration would, seemingly, go out of its way to ignore that important fact.

As we know, around 1,000 cabs out of the fleet of 1,420 are not Euro 6 compliant. In other words, there are 1,000 taxi drivers who, at the moment, would not be able to enter the LEZ in Glasgow. One can already begin to see the extent of the problem. Although 200 cabs have been given an extra 12 months, people in the rest of the taxi sector have been left to find thousands of pounds that they simply do not have during a cost of living crisis.

The worry, therefore, is that many will just leave the trade and will not be replaced. With the high cost of a new electric vehicle, at approximately £60,000, and the average age of a cab driver being nearly 60 years old—believe it or not—the finance option for a new vehicle is, for many, not a viable solution. Due to global supply chain shortages, the second-hand market is sparse, too, which means a significant lack of options for compliance. As we can see, there are layers upon layers of problems. The LEZ will have a devastating impact on traders, taxi drivers and low-income and older drivers who are unable to buy new cars.

Photo of Martin Whitfield Martin Whitfield Labour

One of the services that taxis offer is transportation of particular groups of young people to and from school. Without an adequate replacement, those young people are going to lose out on their education. Taxi drivers are asking for only a short pause, so w ould it not simply be realistic for the Scottish Government and, in particular, Glasgow City Council to accept that request so that, as a result, the expectation with regard to education will be delivered?

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

I could not agree more. There are so many dimensions to the issue that impact on the Scottish economy, including how people, particularly young people, get to school and to work.

Steven Grant of Unite the union’s Glasgow cab branch has said that the situation will have a

“devastating impact on the trade”, which is why the union has called for a delay for all cabs with regard to the LEZ scheme until at least June 2024. I support Unite’s call and I hope that the Government is listening to the cab drivers who work day in and day out in our city.

I hope that other members will address what is happening in their cities. So, if members will forgive me, I will focus a bit on Glasgow.

Glasgow City Council must work with the drivers—which it has not done up until now—and allow time for them to source compliant vehicles. Taxi drivers have been crying out for support due to the inadequate grant support and the unfairness of restrictions that affect busy town centres. We need a new deal for the taxi trade, and we need a strategy that recognises the importance of taxis to our economy.

Glasgow City Council noted, in relation to the night-time economy, that its 2020 city centre strategy was

“aimed at ensuring Glasgow remains one of the top city centres and urban tourism destinations”.

Research has revealed that

“the night-time economy—defined as activity from 6pm until 6am—generates £2.16 billion per annum for the city, supporting 16,600 full-time jobs, whilst the retail sector generates more than £3.3 billion and supports 17,000 full-time jobs.”

The impact on the economy is extraordinary, and I am sure that that is the case in other cities.

It has also been reported that

“Combined employment from the sectors represents over a fifth of the City Centre working population.”

Many workers in the city centre rely on taxis to bring them home after their shifts, and people who work in nightclubs and bars during the evening and in the early hours will be severely affected, as they will now have to rely on public transport.

I am sure that, like me, other members have had parents contact them about the matter—perhaps even people in their own families. Many people simply walk home from the city centre because they cannot get a taxi. It is quite frightening for a parent to think that their child or young person is walking quite a long distance to get home because they simply cannot get home any other way.

The lack of availability of taxis will greatly affect people who work in the city centre during the evenings and busy weekends. We must recognise the vital role that the taxi sector plays in cities such as Glasgow. I am sometimes in the city centre quite late at night. As some members know, I am a musician, and I play in Glasgow city centre. I can already see that people are starting to leave the pubs earlier than they used to, which is simply because they are worried about getting home. There are obviously other issues around public transport, but having a properly viable taxi trade is absolutely vital to getting the city centre back into its former patterns.

Taxi drivers also provide a safe transport option for women, which was addressed in a debate a few weeks ago, and for vulnerable people at night. It provides an important service for people with mobility issues—a topic that will be covered by my colleague Pam Duncan-Glancy.

Glasgow Taxis has demonstrated on-going commitment to city safety through its commitment to the safe taxi scheme, which is a safety initiative to ensure that Glasgow students who are alone and find themselves stuck after a night out with no money can still make it back home safely by using their student card as payment in emergency situations. Too often, students end up in potentially unsafe circumstances and unable to get home. Glasgow Taxis is to be commended for its commitment to getting young students home safe at night.

As a Glasgow regional member, I have watched the Scottish National Party administration on the city council set up a policy that could quite literally wipe out the black cab trade in the city, with no response so far being offered as to how we will see our way through the situation.

Taxi drivers from across Scotland, who lobbied Parliament only recently, were given grant funding to compensate for the impact of restrictions during Covid. Some local authorities paid out more than once, but Glasgow did not. Glasgow City Council paid just once out of the fund, and there seemed to be no realisation that Glasgow, being the most locked-down city in the United Kingdom, would experience such a devastating impact, which we are still feeling now. That is why I have brought the debate to Parliament today.

We must learn lessons from the restrictions that were imposed. I hope that a pandemic of the kind that occurred will never happen again, but we must learn that we have to support trades such as the taxi trade in the period in between, while they try to recover.

I am glad that I have had the chance to speak in the debate and I look forward to hearing the other contributions.

Photo of David Torrance David Torrance Scottish National Party

I thank Pauline McNeill for securing the debate on such an important topic. Provision of taxis is a vital part of our transport system, and I very much share the concerns of taxi drivers across the country about the challenges that are facing the sector as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, Brexit and the cost of living crisis.

Taxi drivers provided an invaluable service to key workers and vulnerable people throughout lockdown and beyond. There was a great welcome for the £57 million of support that was offered to taxi drivers by the Scottish Government in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic.

As deputy convener of the Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee, I have had the privilege of hearing evidence from taxi drivers and their representatives from across the sector on the further support that is needed in order for the industry to fully recover from the effects of the pandemic. The committee listened carefully to the proposals that were set out in the petition that was lodged on behalf of Unite the union. I very much welcome Transport Scotland’s announcement that it will explore with trade unions and other stakeholders the best forum for engagement with the taxi trade and for addressing on-going concerns.

As the motion recognises, support for taxi drivers is not just a transportation issue, but is of cultural, social, economic and environmental concern, so I welcome the Scottish Government’s cross-sectoral approach in treating it as such. For example, I am proud of the Scottish Government’s ambitious plans to prioritise the just transition to net zero by making low emission zone retrofit grants available to taxi drivers to support their shift to lower emissions and greener vehicles. I acknowledge that it has been difficult for taxi drivers in Glasgow to do that. The Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee has seen evidence from the taxi sector about potential challenges that low emission zones might present to taxi drivers, so I am reassured to know that our Minister for Transport is working closely with taxi driver representatives and unions to discuss the matter further.

Fife is one of the most heavily populated local authorities in Scotland, and although we benefit from a range of rail and bus services, taxis are an essential part of our transport chain. They contribute significantly to access to Fife’s array of hospitality, tourism, nightlife, manufacturing industries and outdoor activities. With the summer season on its way, it is essential that taxi drivers feel supported and valued as major players in our local economy, as they are in Glasgow, too.

I am sympathetic in respect of the financial pressures that are facing taxi drivers. We cannot ignore the glaring and obvious pitfalls of the UK Government’s recent spring budget. Households across the country, including those of taxi drivers, are facing the biggest fall in living standards on record, and families are seeing their incomes being devastated by the cost of living crisis.

I am confident that the Scottish Government is using its limited powers and resources to address that cost of living crisis. Although the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s increased funding to the Scottish Government is welcome, it is nowhere near adequate to deal with the significant fiscal challenges that the Scottish Government and Scottish local authorities are facing as a direct result of the economic chaos that has been caused by Westminster. I know that it will be a huge disappointment to the taxi industry, but the chancellor missed a vital opportunity to give real support and to grant the Scottish Government the necessary levers to provide taxi drivers with meaningful support.

The chancellor’s measures will also do little to mitigate the damage of Brexit, which has intensified the driver shortage crisis in Scotland. The impact on labour shortages has been felt across Scotland, including in my constituency. In evidence that was submitted to the Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee, Fife Council raised concerns about how taxi operators are having to turn down hires regularly because of a shortage of drivers across Fife.

The problem has been exacerbated by a massive decrease in taxi driver numbers. According to the Scottish Taxi Federation, driver numbers have been devastated by Covid, with many deciding not to return to the taxi trade in favour of taking other employment.

I would like to conclude by giving immense thanks to taxi drivers in my constituency and across the country for continuing to provide the people of Scotland with fast, safe, reliable and economical transport. It is clear that the industry faces many pressures in the aftermath of the pandemic, as well as through Brexit and the cost of living crisis. The Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee will continue to take evidence from the sector in order to advise the Scottish Government on the best way forward.

Photo of Pam Duncan-Glancy Pam Duncan-Glancy Labour

I thank my friend and colleague Pauline McNeill for bringing the debate to the chamber and for all the work that she has done to support the taxi trade, including in Glasgow.

I will use my time to talk about how important taxis are to me and other disabled people. Most types of public transport in Glasgow simply are not accessible to me, as a disabled woman. I cannot use the subway because most of the platforms have steps and no lifts, and even where I could get to the platform, the trains are not accessible for wheelchair users. Buses have a one-wheelchair rule, which means that I cannot travel on a bus if a wheelchair user or a pram is already on board, and I cannot travel on buses with my partner, who is also a wheelchair user. I told members this story earlier this month. It not only hampers my ability to get around; it is dangerous. I also told members of the experience that I had when I had to travel on my own at night and was followed home.

Not even ambulances are fully accessible in the city of Glasgow. When I fell last year, there was no space in the ambulance for me to take my wheelchair with me or for my husband to come. It was taxis that stepped up. This is a crucial issue for disabled people and women, as I will come on to.

I am not alone. Research carried out by Transport Scotland shows that disabled people are less likely to have a driving licence than non-disabled people and less likely to have a car available to their household than non-disabled people. Accessible public transport is vital in ensuring that we can travel around freely and participate in society as our peers do, but we are not there yet.

For most disabled people—me included—taxis are by far the easiest and most accessible form of public transport available. Disabled people make twice as many taxi journeys a year as non-disabled people. Right across the region, Glasgow black cabs help disabled people to get to school, go to work, see friends and access hospital appointments. As I said, they even provide an emergency service.

Taxis are key not only to disabled people; they also provide a safe form of transport for many others, including women, particularly when travelling home at night. They are fundamental to so many people, which is why I am deeply concerned about the impact that the low-emission zone in Glasgow will have on the trade. We are already seeing problems. As my colleague Pauline McNeill has said, people are walking home or leaving early. We have heard about disabled people not getting to work on time because of delays that are caused by fewer cabs being available. We have heard, including from my colleague Martin Whitfield, about trouble getting disabled children to school. That is all because there are already fewer drivers in the trade. The situation is serious.

Although I support action to address climate change, including the creation of low-emission zones, our transition to net zero must be just, and to be just, the transition must protect jobs and equality. As it stands, the implementation of the low-emission zone in Glasgow will fall far short of that standard.

I first met representatives of the Glasgow cab section of Unite in February 2022 after it had launched its campaign to stop the black cab blackout the previous weekend. Not long after that, I met Glasgow Taxis, the largest supplier of licensed taxis in Glasgow, which has an entirely wheelchair-accessible fleet. They all told me the same thing: without urgent action, the low-emission zone will be devastating for the public, the taxi trade and drivers in Glasgow. My colleague Pauline McNeill has set out in detail the stark reality that those drivers face.

We are in a cost of living crisis. Many drivers are already struggling to make ends meet, as we have heard in the debate. Without action from the Government, they will not be able to afford to meet the requirements, and funding is not the only factor. As we have heard, a decline in the supply of parts is also affecting the industry and delaying retrofitting work.

Other local authorities such as Edinburgh and Aberdeen have recognised how hard this is for the taxi trade and have rightly delayed the implementation of their low-emission zones until 2024. However, Glasgow City Council is refusing to do that for many taxi drivers. Drivers are not opposed to action to tackle emissions; they are simply asking for more time and financial help so that they have a fair chance of meeting the requirements of the low-emission zone.

There is already a significant problem with job losses and unemployment in Glasgow. What thought has been given to drivers for whom, in many cases, reskilling is simply not an option? What are they to do? What are disabled people, women and everybody else who relies so heavily on taxis meant to do when so many taxis go off the road?

Since the moment that I learned about the devastating impact that Glasgow’s low-emission zone could have on the black cab trade, I have not stopped fighting to save them. We cannot let Glasgow’s accessible black cab trade die, we cannot leave thousands of drivers without jobs and we cannot leave women and disabled people without safe and accessible transport. Will the minister please set out how she will take action to give Glasgow’s black cab trade a fighting chance of survival?

Photo of Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Conservative

I thank Pauline McNeill for bringing this really important debate to the chamber. When I was driving into Glasgow earlier this week, I saw a rather depressing sight. As I drove along the M77, there were massive roadside signs advertising the fact that the low-emission zone will come into effect in June, so it seems that there is no turning back—this is going to happen.

Pauline McNeill rightly described taxis as part of our public transport system. That is how we need to view them, particularly in a city such as Glasgow—Edinburgh is the same. In Glasgow, we have become used to having lots of black cabs around; we have been able to just stick out a thumb and get one. There were so many black cabs that, when my wife and I got married, a long time ago, we invited guests to just stick out their thumb, get a black cab and go to where we were having our celebratory meal. That is how good they have been.

I fear—as do Pauline McNeill and the members of Unite the union with whom I have been working—that we will lose hundreds and hundreds of black cabs in Glasgow. That, as people have pointed out, will affect women—I know that the minister feels that strongly—and, as Pam Duncan-Glancy said, disabled people who need to get home, particularly late at night. Black cabs provide a service that cannot be provided by anyone else.

Glasgow City Council knows the issues and should understand the trade. I will explain the black cab trade to you, Deputy Presiding Officer. In Glasgow—in fact, across Scotland—our taxi drivers tend to buy second-hand vehicles, many of which come from the London market, so they have to wait for those vehicles to appear in the second-hand market. They are asking for extra time because those vehicles are just not in that market yet.

Glasgow faces a cliff edge in June, when we will lose taxis. That is a fact. The city will suffer. Not only the city but people who live near the city and people who go into it will suffer. I refer to people who live in places such as East Kilbride, where I am from. Glasgow is a regional centre, so the issue is not just for the people of Glasgow but for people who come into Glasgow.

Glasgow City Council can and will introduce the low-emission zone, but it can still be flexible. It could exempt taxis for the year in which taxi drivers are asking for an exemption. It is not too late. I say to the minister that, if she speaks to her colleagues in Glasgow City Council, she should tell them that the low-emission zone meter can and should be paused. That would benefit women, disabled people and children, it would benefit members of the public who need taxis and it would benefit the taxi trade. It would make sense.

Photo of Paul Sweeney Paul Sweeney Labour

I congratulate my Glasgow colleague Pauline McNeill on bringing this important motion to the chamber for debate.

I hope that the minister has heard the words of members around the chamber on the critical issue that is faced by taxi drivers across our city and Scotland more widely. I speak from some experience: my dad is a taxi driver. He is in his 60s and drives a taxi in Glasgow. He does that because he was made redundant from the shipyards and it was a way for him to earn a stable income and have more control over his life after suffering from the impact of deindustrialisation in Glasgow.

That is the story of many taxi drivers in our city, who do the job because it offers flexibility and a stable income. They are, by and large, in their 50s and 60s. They are not the sort of people who are prepared or able to take on tens of thousands of pounds of debt to finance the purchase of new vehicles—nor would they want to, because they are not at the point in their careers where that makes sense.

We therefore have this wicked problem of a crunch. A new technology is coming in and internal combustion engine vehicles are being phased out, the new second-hand market is not established yet and there is not the financial wherewithal or the products available to facilitate that transition meaningfully. To add insult to injury, Glasgow City Council is pig-headedly pressing ahead with the blunt implementation of a low-emission zone and has not paid heed to the valid concerns that taxi drivers have raised.

I know that taxi drivers are not luddites. They are not anti-environmental improvement. They want to go with the grain, but they need to be given a fair deal in the way that bus companies have been given a fair deal to renew their fleets with substantial and generous public subsidies along with their large capital-raising capacity.

Taxi drivers, who are often self-employed, often do not have the means to raise capital and are at a point in their lives where they cannot get that kind of finance, so they need extra support from the Government. If they do not get that, the public good that taxis provide—which colleagues across the chamber have so eloquently described, whether it be the educational aspect, disability access or support for our night-time economy—will suffer. Indeed, we will all suffer, because we all have skin in the game with regard to having a thriving taxi industry.

Given that the transport system in Glasgow is basically non-existent from half past 11 at night until 6 am, taxis are all the more critical. We have heard about the safety implications of their not being available for workers and those who participate as consumers in our night-time economy, and we have also heard about the chilling effect that it is having on our wider economy, which is worth billions of pounds a year. Glasgow’s city centre has a very low residential population, so the city relies disproportionately on, as Mr Simpson described, people travelling from the outer suburbs and from places such as East Kilbride to visit hospitality venues in the city centre. If they are not able to do that, it will change behaviour, which will have an effect on revenue and result in business failure. If we do not address this issue at first hand, it will have a compounding effect.

We have lots of opportunities. I know that we have heard pretty damaging figures such as the number of licences in Glasgow being down by 15 per cent since 2019. In fact, I would argue that, when we add in shift drivers, the actual availability of taxis on the road is twice as big a factor, with a potential loss of up to a third or even a half of the available taxis on the streets of Glasgow at any one time. That number is pretty horrific, and I know from personal experience of coming off the train at Queen Street in the evenings how difficult it is to get a taxi, particularly midweek.

However, although this is a major issue, there are solutions. Greater Manchester’s clean air plan shows that it is possible to take action to improve air quality without harming the taxi trade; its proposal for a Greater Manchester-wide clean air zone has been introduced alongside funding of £21.4 million for the taxi industry to renew its fleet and allow for the transition to more compliant vehicles. We could do the same sort of thing with a major manufacturer such as the Allied Vehicles Group, the UK’s largest taxi manufacturer, which is based in and employs 600 people in Glasgow. That is one example of a joined-up approach that could be taken—that is, working with the industry to develop a product that is practical and which can work better than what has been done previously. The switched-on taxi loan scheme does not work. It does not provide the scale that is needed, and it does not address the issues.

I therefore appeal to the minister to look again at this problem and work with the council and the industry to solve it. There is a willingness to do this—we just need to get the right pieces in place to make it work.

Photo of Foysol Choudhury Foysol Choudhury Labour

I thank my colleague Pauline McNeill for highlighting this issue in the chamber.

The motion highlights the important service that taxi drivers provide to the transport sector. They offer a means of transport to those who are unable to take public transport, as well as a safe route home for those thousands of people who are not comfortable with using public transport either on their own or late at night. They also provide a means of transport to those who are physically unable to take buses, trains or trams and in places where public transport is not easily accessible.

I also echo the words of the motion in emphasising the support that Scotland’s taxi services provide to the hospitality and events sector. As shadow minister for culture, I, too, recognise the important role that taxi drivers play in revitalising the culture sector in Glasgow and Edinburgh after what have been a difficult few years for the industry. Lots of industries felt the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, but such unprecedented times forced many taxi drivers to give up the profession entirely. Throughout the pandemic, taxi drivers struggled with severely reduced passenger numbers and restrictions that made it very difficult for them to work full time. They did not receive enough support from the Scottish Government and, as many taxi drivers are self-employed, they were forced to find other means of income. The fact that many did not return to the profession after the pandemic has further exacerbated the shortage of taxi drivers in cities across Scotland.

The Scottish Government’s move towards low-emission zones will further exacerbate the challenges faced by taxi drivers and make their jobs even more difficult. It is clear that not enough is being done to support them through this transition, and the Scottish Government needs to reinforce the value of taxi drivers and do more to support their important job.

As I have already mentioned, taxi drivers provide a safe route home for those who cannot travel on public transport or who feel unsafe when walking home alone—something that I highlighted in my speech on international women’s day.

Taxi drivers often provide this vital service while dealing with a massive amount of unruly, aggressive and intoxicated passengers. Many of my constituents who are taxi drivers have told me of the difficulty of having to deal with stressful and complicated situations by themselves, because many are self-employed. More should be done to ensure that taxi drivers are met with the same level of respect as any other public service provider. The Scottish Government must facilitate action to support taxi drivers and their valuable contribution to the night-time economy and the culture industry.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I call Jenny Gilruth to respond to the debate.

Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

I start by congratulating Pauline McNeill on securing this afternoon’s important members’ business debate. Pauline McNeill was right to say that our taxi drivers are vital to the Scottish economy.

I have listened carefully to members’ contributions, and I appreciate the issues and concerns that they have raised. I will try to respond to each in turn. I am conscious that, next week, I might not be the transport minister, so I want to put on record my commitment throughout my time in post to engaging directly with our trade unions and particularly on this issue. In fact, I met them on the matter only last week.

As we heard earlier, exactly three years ago today, the country entered a national lockdown. “Stay at home” was the mantra for us all; saving lives was the imperative. As we have heard today, lockdown restrictions cut us off from family and friends, but they also necessitated certain businesses stopping trading—cafes and shops ceased to trade. Indeed, the Scottish economy contracted by 20 per cent during the first few months of lockdown. The Scottish Government provided support and made available around £4.4 billion in grants and non-domestic rates relief. That helped to save many businesses—it was a lifeline. However, as we have heard from Pauline McNeill and others today, it was a really challenging time for our taxi industry.

We also know, as we heard from members, that demand for taxi services plummeted during the pandemic. Operators reported an 80 per cent drop in bookings—we heard about some of that in Foysol Choudhury’s contribution—and many drivers chose to leave the profession, as we heard from Mr Sweeney. Those who stayed in the profession reported huge reductions in their income.

The Scottish Government provided specific funding to the taxi trade through the taxi and private hire driver support fund and latterly through the taxi and private hire vehicle driver and operator support fund. However, as we heard from Pauline McNeill, the importance of the night-time economy, particularly during our recovery from the pandemic, cannot be overstated. Foysol Choudhury will know of my particular interest in that, given my previous ministerial responsibilities as Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development.

It is important that, in the Government, we have a holistic approach that recognises the challenge that our night-time economy in particular faces. That is a particular issue for Glasgow, where it is such a thriving industry. As I am half Glaswegian, I must put on record that I lived in Glasgow for nearly a quarter of my life as a student and, latterly, when I was working. Therefore, I very much recognise the vibrancy of that night-time economy and the need to support it adequately. In particular, that includes our taxi drivers who work in that environment.

As I have put on the record, I have previously met the Scottish Trades Union Congress and Unite. At the end of last year, I also met the Scottish Private Hire Association to talk about this issue and others more broadly. The sector faces a number of challenges at this time.

We heard from David Torrance about some of the challenges in relation to driver shortages, which have been exacerbated to some extent by Brexit. As I mentioned, it is also true to say that some have simply chosen to walk away from the trade completely.

I want to mention the importance of having properly licensed taxis. As I think we heard from Graham Simpson and others, women and minorities often depend on our taxi trade to get home safely.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

Before you move on to that, I want to highlight something that Paul Sweeney talked about. It is a good point that has also been made to me in conversation. Do you have any influence in your post—I wish you well in it in the future—to talk about how local authorities such as Glasgow could sit down with companies in other parts of the sector and bring them together a bit more?

I have called for a new deal for taxi drivers. Part of the issue is that Glasgow was the most locked-down city, and the city is obviously not returning to what it was. I know that you are talking to lots of people, minister. That suggests to me that perhaps you could encourage authorities such as Glasgow to make a deal encompassing companies that can bring something to the table.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Speak through the chair, please.

Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

I am more than happy to consider the member’s suggestion. In relation to licensing, I have been in discussions with officials on that point this morning. Of course, responsibility for licensing sits with another minister in the Scottish Government, but I think that there is a requirement for more commonality in respect of how the system is administered across local authorities to ensure that there is more of a level playing field. If that is the point that the member was alluding to, I recognise it very much.

Photo of Paul Sweeney Paul Sweeney Labour

To develop the point about taxi renewal and a product being available, the switched-on taxis loan scheme is not attractive to older drivers, for the reasons that I mentioned in my speech, but perhaps work could be done with manufacturers such as Allied Vehicles to develop a personal contract purchase scheme or a patient leasing scheme that might be attractive to drivers. That might allow drivers to transition without the huge up-front capital cost of buying a vehicle, which is currently £60,000 to £100,000.

Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

The member makes an important and valid point. I will not give him a commitment on the record today, for reasons that he will well understand. However, there is a persuasive argument in relation to how that could be administered in future. As we heard from David Torrance, irrespective of who holds this position next week, Transport Scotland will continue to engage with the transport minister on the matter, and directly with local authorities, because it is an on-going challenge.

Pam Duncan-Glancy spoke of some of the challenges with accessibility on our wider public transport network. She will know that I am very live to those issues through the wider work that we are undertaking in relation to women’s safety. However, there is a huge challenge there, and of course taxis play a vital role in relation to accessibility. Irrespective of who holds this post in future, the Government will need to do more on that matter.

I do not think that there has been a debate today about the need for low-emission zones. A question was raised at First Minister’s question time relating to climate change and how we are going to reach our ambitious climate change targets. Undoubtedly, low-emission zones have a role to play in that regard. Earlier this week, data was published that showed that Scots living in some of the poorest areas in Scotland are much more likely to die from lung conditions. Asthma + Lung UK is calling on Governments, including the Scottish Government, to do more to tackle health inequalities by improving air quality, and low-emission zones have a key role to play in that endeavour.

We have spoken at great length about some of the specifics in relation to Glasgow City Council. Obviously, the decisions are for Glasgow City Council but, as minister, I put on the record that I have discussed the matter with the council, most recently only two weeks ago, I think.

Glasgow City Council is responsible for granting exceptions. As I think I have discussed with Pam Duncan-Glancy in a previous parliamentary exchange, there is a specific challenge in Glasgow because of the age of the current fleet, which is much older than the fleets in other parts of the country. That is, in part, due to the council’s licensing conditions historically having been more lax than those in other parts of the country.

Photo of Pam Duncan-Glancy Pam Duncan-Glancy Labour

On that basis, does the minister agree that there is a case to be made that Glasgow should delay the implementation of the low-emission zone for taxi drivers so that measures such as those that my colleagues Paul Sweeney, Pauline McNeill and others have suggested can be put in place?

Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

Obviously, that is a matter for the city council, but I hear the member’s point.

It is, of course, for Glasgow City Council to outline its position, but I recognise that taxi operators and the unions have been engaging with the local authority. Very recently, Glasgow has confirmed that there will be an additional year for drivers whose taxis cannot be retrofitted, and the position for others is simply a requirement to demonstrate that they have signed up to the process of applying for funding. I understand that guidance is about to be issued on that early next week. Of course, that is a matter for Glasgow City Council. I certainly discussed the matter that the member has raised with the unions only last week.

I am conscious of the time. We have discussed at length some of the issues in relation to the importance of low-emission zones. I recognise members’ views, particularly in relation to the challenges that are being experienced in Glasgow. As transport minister, I commit to work with our trade unions and the city council to reach a resolution. I recognise that the city council is taking action.

The taxi trade plays a vital role in Scotland—it gets people from A to B; it protects vulnerable passengers, as we have heard; and it provides mobility to those who otherwise might not be able to access key services. The Government has absolutely committed to improving our air quality through the roll-out of low-emission zones. We will continue that important work, and we will continue to support the taxi and private hire trade, which makes a vital contribution to Scottish society. We will continue to support the sector as best we can.

14:04 Meeting suspended.

14:29 On resuming—