A £500,000 pot of cash looks likely to be shared among the 1,300 cabbies in Brighton and Hove after a key meeting this evening (Thursday 4 February).
It will amount to a maximum of just £400 each – and possibly as little as £250 – as Brighton and Hove City Council looks to provide a measure of relief.
Details of the scheme have yet to be finalised, including how those affected can apply. The money is intended to go towards costs, such as covid safety measures, rather than to subsidise lost income.
Green council leader Phélim Mac Cafferty said that senior licensing colleagues would hold an emergency meeting with the trade – hackney carriage (taxi) and private hire drivers – to discuss the effects of covid-19.
Members of all parties have expressed sympathy for the plight of Brighton and Hove’s cabbies while trying to work out how to provide help within the rules set out by the government.
Councillor Mac Cafferty said: “We are working behind the scenes with officers to try to address other requests.”
These include ways to reduce the burden of costs, red tape and technical requirements at a time when takings have plummeted.
Councillor Mac Cafferty said that two of his colleagues – Councillors Lizzie Deane and Steve Davis – were “hopeful that they are going to be able to come to the trade with the best possible package considering the circumstances”.
He added: “We may be able to review what’s going on. Some of this depends on the national picture.”
And he said that one of the shared frustrations was that the council had no way to prevent drivers who were licensed elsewhere from coming in to Brighton and Hove and “hoovering up trade”.
Labour opposition leader Nancy Platts and Conservative group leader Steve Bell praised the council for trying to reach drivers from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups with information about support.
The taxi trade had a high proportion of drivers from ethnic minorities and was a high-risk group for coronavirus infections and deaths.
Councillor Platts asked whether any other trades or business groups were still missing out on government support during the pandemic.
She referred to leftover grant money from earlier support schemes which had to be handed back to the government and said: “It was very disappointing that despite three requests of government before, we had businesses that desperately needed money to survive and then we were forced to hand back that money rather than switch it from one fund to another.
“I think a lot of businesses were very disappointed by that but obviously we don’t make the rules.”
The council’s executive director for the economy, environment and culture, Nick Hibberd, said that many self-employed people, sole traders and directors of small limited companies were missing out because they did not have fixed costs.
He said: “We are taking the approach that wherever we are able to support businesses, we will.
“When we did some analysis of the discretionary grants, more than 20 per cent of those grants have been awarded to sole traders and the self-employed.
“We are trying to support businesses wherever the government guidance allows us to do so.”
Councillor Bell said that the grants would “lighten the burden” on families and businesses and he asked whether there was money left for other sectors where businesses are struggling.
The council’s acting chief financial officer Nigel Manvell said that there would still be funds to help other businesses.
Councillor Bell praised cabbies, saying: “The taxi drivers and all other businesses do so much in and around the city.
“It’s good to see some of them crowdfunding – so that we can contribute – so they are able to offer taxis free of charge to those who are getting their vaccinations.
“That takes away the angst from some people and the concerns they are facing when they want their vaccination and they can’t afford a taxi and it is difficult to get there.”
Money will also be made available for some nurseries and childminders who were not eligible for grants during the November lockdown but were currently allowed to open only for vulnerable children and the children of key workers.
The meeting this evening agreed to budget between £60,000 and £75,000 in total, with officials expected to hand out between 45 and 65 grants.
The decision was taken by the three political party leaders at a meeting of the council’s Policy and Resources Urgency Sub-Committee.
A similar group – the Policy and Resources (Recovery) Sub-Committee – is due to receive an update on grants for businesses at a virtual meeting on Wednesday 3 March.
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