Safety fears over proposal to cut taxi marshalling service in Sunderland

Sunderland Civic Centre.

Sunderland Civic Centre.

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Revellers and cabbies may face further violence from drunken yobs if a taxi marshalling service is axed, it is feared.

It may end as early as April if nearly £125,000 of funding is scrapped as part of the authority’s search for £74m of savings.

Taxi driver, George Daley long serving driver for Station Taxis.

Taxi driver, George Daley long serving driver for Station Taxis.

More details of how the council aims to reach its target are now emerging with queston marks also facing the future of sports pitches, bowling greens and “key parks” across the city.

Preliminary talks are already underway with the Football Association to find a partial solution.

As far as the marshals are concerned, leading city firm Station Taxis fears their disappearance could lead to an escalation in weekend intimidation and violence.

George Daley, chairman of the firm, which has nearly 200 vehicles, said the funding cut was “understandable but unfortunate”.

He added: “It is a valuable service and it would potentially have effects for both our staff and customers and those of other companies in the town.

“The marshals do a great job in keeping order because some people do not like to queue and you can end up with a chaotic situation, particularly on weekends, when trouble starts.”

The marshals mainly work outside the Green Terrace taxi rank on Friday, Saturday and Monday evenings from 11pm-5am and Nik Chapman, manager of the Cooper Rose, in nearby Albion Place, also fears violence could increase.

Mr Chapman, who is chairman of the Sunderland City Centre Pubwatch group, said: “Obviously the cuts would be massively disappointing and detriminal to all the businesses involved in the night-time economy and their users.

“It could lead to an escalation in violence at 3am when people have had too much to drink although even just the fear could lead to more people staying away or heading off to Newcastle instead.”

Businesses across the city centre contribute to the service according to their ratable value although financial support from Northumbria Police, which orginally ran the scheme, has now ended.

A council report accepts that the savings - £94,000 in the 2017-18 financial year and £30,000 12 months later - could mean the service ends.

However, it adds that preferably the shortfall could be made up by “partners benefiting from it including taxi firms and licensed premises”.

Councillor Michael Mordey, cabinet member for City Services, said: “A decision was made in last year’s budget to end funding for the taxi marshal scheme.
“This is against a background of unprecedented cuts and cost pressures the council as a result of the Government’s austerity programme, with £74million of savings to find by 2020 on top of the £250million we have had to save over the last six years, which has resulted in us having to look at and review everything we do.

“We are in discussions with the taxi trade, the night time economy and Northumbria Police about them contributing to the service as they all benefit from it.
“At the moment it has been left to the council tax payer to fund and we are no longer able to do so.”

Superintendent Sarah Pitt, from Southern Area Command, added: “We have always welcomed taxi marshals in Sunderland city centre but we have all been affected by financial pressures and understand the decision that has been made.

“We still have a highly visible policing presence in the city centre, particularly at weekends, and our Operation Guardian patrols will ensure that those enjoying the thriving city centre night life can do so in the knowledge that we are there to protect them.

“Our officers regularly meet with taxi companies to give them training on how to detect any vulnerability that we may need to address and that work will continue throughout the busy Christmas period.

“We will be on patrol in the area of the taxi queues and will ensure that we are available to intervene if we do receive any reports of crime and disorder.

“It’s important everyone involved in the night-time economy - police, licensed premises, door staff and taxi drivers - work together to make our city centre a safe place to visit and we are proud of the partnership approach we adopt to keep people safe.”

Earlier this week the Echo revealed how green bin services could be switched from a weekly service to a fortnightly collection as part of the cuts.

The council insists it has no option but to balance its books following reduced central government funding and to preserve essential services covering adult social care and vulnerable children.

It believes transferring “the management of sports pitches, bowling greens and key park to community trust models” could save £359,000.

This proposal and the discussions with the FA are at a far earlier stage than the taxi cuts with no changes expected until the 2019-20 financial year.