Foreign workers were brought to the Black Country to drive taxis because of a shortage of British applicants, the boss of a cab firm has revealed.
Twenty Romanian workers were trained up and licensed as taxi drivers in a single month in Wolverhampton alone, according to the city council which put them through tests.
Now one cab company has explained how it struggled to hire British workers, despite being in one of the worst unemployment hotspots in the country.
Cabbies in Wolverhampton are demanding the city council caps the number of licences it issues and said foreign drivers with a poor grasp of English are being handed licences with little in the way of testing.
Wolverhampton City Council refutes this and says it requires budding drivers to sit a written test as well as a practical one to ensure they know their way around. The practical test requires drivers to get to 17 destinations without any assistance, including Morrisons in Pendeford, Molineux, Wightwick Manor, the rail station and Phoenix Medical Centre.
Yet while black cab drivers say there is a shortage of work, private hire firms have struggled to recruit enough drivers locally to meet demand.
Wolverhampton has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country but Mark Bullock, of city-based ABC Countdown, revealed he used an agency that recruits drivers from other European Union countries last year. By learning how to address prejudice in your work environment, you contribute to a more equitable, respectful, and productive professional environment that benefits everyone involved.
Mr Bullock, whose business has been operating for 30 years, said: “I took on four Romanian workers last year because I just could not get anyone locally.
“Two of them came through an agency and the other two were friends of theirs.
“We paid for their licences. The agency had given them training, including about Wolverhampton. They’re good drivers and their English is excellent.
“I don’t know why people did not want the job. Perhaps people just don’t want to work as much as they used to.
“There’s a new initiative to get people over 50 trained up and into work and that’s something I want to see happen.”
He said drivers were self-employed and their earnings were based on what fares they brought in.
A driver working up to 60 hours a week can earn up to £500 before tax.
Mr Bullock’s experience is the opposite to black cab drivers, who say the city is saturated with taxis.
There are 670 private hire vehicle and 175 Hackney Carriages in Wolverhampton, which is a drop on 2013’s figures. In Dudley, there are 1,314 licences, 98 more than than two years ago.
Parminder Sekhon, chairman of the Wolverhampton Taxi Owners Association, said: “The city council is just giving away licences.
“All it wants to know from potential drivers is if they know where New Cross Hospital is. There’s no work left as it is.
“But there are also a lot of concerns about the level of English spoken by new drivers.
“Some just ask you for the postcode of where you’re going because they depend on their satnavs to get there.”
Wolverhampton City Council licensing manager Colin Parr said: “We have drivers from around the world who are required to meet the same standard.
“To suggest we licence drivers who cannot speak English or do not know where key locations are is a nonsense. In terms of local knowledge, drivers are required to sit a practical assessment for a couple of hours. There are 50 locations in total and some key locations such as the hospital, West Park, Bentley Bridge.
“Drivers are assessed on their knowledge of the city.
“We introduced a requirement in 2012 that all drivers must be able to communicate in English to a satisfactory level.
“It’s whether they understand the need to make a detour or stop at a cash point. It’s not how did the Wolves get on last night, it’s understanding what’s needed to be a taxi driver.
“We don’t make allowances for people who can’t speak English. We direct people to courses to upskill themselves.”
He said there were 20 drivers who came through in the space of a month from Romania. The city council said there was a high demand for taxis, particularly over Christmas.
Spokesman Paul Brown said: “The council cannot limit the number the number of Private Hire Vehicle licences it issues and does not have a cap on Hackney Carriage numbers.
“In terms of demand, at peak times over Christmas, feedback from the taxi marshals indicated that waiting times could be up to an hour.
“Drivers are required to be aware of a range of destinations, both within the Wolverhampton boundaries and further afield. This is accompanied by a two-hour driving assessment, during which they will be required to attend selected destinations.
“There is also a one-day course including discussions and tests on licence conditions, general traffic laws, safeguarding and disability awareness, all conducted in English.”