A political war of words has broken out after Liberal Democrats on Wearside slammed a decision to scrap taxi marshals in Sunderland city centre.
At a recent meeting of the city’s council, a budget was passed which removes funding for the service, despite warnings from some members that it would lead to a less safe environment for young revellers on weekend evenings.
Lib Dem councllors had proposed an amendment to the budget which they argued would protect the funding for taxi marshals by cutting allowances paid to councillors and the mayor - but that was rejected.
Council documents show that withdrawing the funding for the service, which was originally set up by Northumbria Police, should save £124,000 over the next two years.
The service was joint-funded but Northumbria Police has now withdrawn cash.
Council bosses argue that Coun Hodson is trying to “grab a cheap headline” and that the removal of the marshal service was delayed by a year.
They insisted that its removal is because of continued Government-imposed austerity cuts and talks are ongoing with the city’s taxi trade to find a solution.
Niall Hodson, Lib Dem councillor for Millfield and Thornholme said: “It beggars belief that Labour councillors have taken a step which makes the city centre less safe on an evening, ignoring the warnings from their own council officers and from the police.
“Sunderland’s night-time economy is key to keeping the city vibrant – but people need to feel it is safe.
“To remove the taxi marshal service without putting any alternative in place, and to reject a sensible Lib Dem proposal to keep the service running, is typical of the callousness with which Labour have approached making cuts over the past few years.”
Portfolio holder for city services on the council, Coun Michael Mordey, hit back, saying: “Once again, Coun Hodson in his attempt to grab a cheap headline is rehashing old news.
“The difficult decision to withdraw the council subsidy for the taxi marshal service was taken last year.
“It’s implementation was delayed a year to allow discussions with the taxi trade, representatives from the licensing trade and the night-time economy, Northumbria Police, and others; about those that benefit from the service, contributing towards it’s cost.
“Those discussions are still ongoing.
“I ask the people of Sunderland to bear in mind that the difficult decisions the council currently has to make about which services continue and which services are cut is as a direct consequence of the Government’s seven-year austerity agenda.
“An agenda that Councillor Hodson supported for five years, so his criticism really has no credibility with me when he and his party are partly responsible for the situation we find ourselves in.
“Funding for the marshals is available until the end of April but the council and the city’s council taxpayers can no longer afford to keep funding the service in the long-term – but hopefully the on-going talks described above will result in a solution being found.”
Conservative leader on the council Robert Oliver said: “Taxi marshals carry out a very useful service with regards to safety in the city centre and their work is valued by residents and taxi drivers alike so it is regrettable that the service is to end.
“The council will need to monitor the withdrawal of taxi marshals in case there is any adverse effect on people using taxis in the city centre and taxi drivers themselves.
“At the budget meeting, the Conservative Group listed a lot of ways in which money could be saved - such as ending the trade union subsidy - and therefore spent supporting taxi marshals.
“Alternative funding could also come from Northumbria Police as the Police and Crime Commissioner has increased the precept by 5% - double the Council Tax increase- and above inflation.”
A spokeswoman for Northumbria Police said: “We have a good relationship with street pastors in the city centre and have an effective, dedicated nighttime economy operation to help ensure the city centre remains a safe place for people to enjoy a night out.”