PRIVATE hire drivers have threatened to take their vehicle licensing “cross-border” in growing frustration at Bury Council.

At a meeting of the Licensing Committee drivers petitioned councillors for another MOT testing centre in the borough.

Representatives of the drivers association told the committee they feel there is a testing shortage and system of double standards leading drivers to fail MOT tests taken by one garage, only for them to pass with the same vehicle at another.

Their threat to go cross-border could see private hire drivers being licensed by another local authority while continuing to predominantly operate on Bury’s streets.

However councillor officers hit back, highlighting that efforts are being made to close the legal loophole allowing drivers to be licensed by one local authority and drive on the streets of another, and said that current MOT testing capacity is sufficient.

Shaf Mahmood, a representative of Private Hire Drivers Association and manager at Walmersley taxi base, told the meeting that when he entered the taxi business in 1993 there were three test stations in Bury for around 400 drivers.

He said: “We have got that fed up now that we are thinking of going cross-border.

“If we go cross-border that’s 400 and odd drivers who will be licensed over the border but still working in Bury. That means the council would lose £200,000 and people will be out of jobs. You have to help the drivers.

“I was supposed to sign up for cross-border yesterday but I didn’t because I wanted to come here, because we belong to Bury Council and we still want to give funds to Bury Council so they can carry on running. Please don’t force us, this is getting to be a serious matter.”

Muhammad Sajed, also of the Private Hire Drivers Association, said: “There are 1,200 drivers in Bury and 1,065 private hire vehicles on the road over the last years paying more than £1.5 million. Ten years ago I was in this hall demanding one thing, that we should get another MOT station.

“Ten years later and I’m still stood here in front of different faces but with the same demand ­— we need more independent MOT stations. A large number of the drivers strongly believe they are the victims of licensing discrimination.

“We are paying customers. We don’t come here for free treatment. So we want you to listen to our concerns and we want you to address our concerns.

“We can’t move on like this. it has been a very long time. We want you to improve and make a better, safer working environment for taxi drivers.

“We provide excellent service and I think you should be encouraging people to stay under Bury Council licensing. I do not want to promote cross-border taxis.”

Licensing unit manager Mr Bridge said that the council was aware that a small number of private hire vehicles licensed outside of Bury are now operating in Bury.

He said: “This is not just a problem in Bury its problem across the country.”

However Mr Bridge noted that the Government is looking to close the “cross-border issue” currently permitted via a loophole in private hire vehicle and taxi legislation dating back to 1976 and 1847 respectively.

He added: “There will come a point if legislation is changed and all those people who have gone elsewhere and the councils that have been issuing all these plates, under the proposals being put forward, you will have to be licensed where you are working.”

At present MOT testing for private hire vehicles and hackney carriages operating in Bury is carried out at a centre in Bolton. Previously they had been carried out at Bradley Fold station, however a fire earlier this year meant that vehicle testing had to be relocated.

Attaf Hussain, a driver with Elton Bullit, also said he was disappointed that drivers were coming to the council with the same problem.

He said: “Why have we not just been given a selection of garages? Why just Bradley Fold?

“Why do you trust Bradley Fold MOT station and not any other reputable garage? That would solve the problem for the drivers.”

Mr Hussain also took issue with the complaints procedure, saying: “This whole process is very complex.

“You are saying there is a set procedure, but that set procedure can take a long time. Meanwhile a driver is out of work for four or five weeks until each of the relevant people have got a message and you’ve dealt with it.”

Responding to the drivers Councillor Tahir Rafiq, chairman of the Licensing Committee said: “It’s not about complaints it is about justifying the need.

“If there is a need and drivers can convince us there is a need it will be looked at. We are not going to say no but we can’t just do it because people are saying they want it.”

Angela Lomax, Bury Council’s head of trading standards and licensing, refuted the need for another testing station. She added: “We have a number of reasons we have always had one. We have looked at a peer review against our colleagues in Greater Manchester and, apart from Bolton, every other just has one. We have less that 1,000 drivers and about 2,500 test appointments available a year. There should be enough tests available for that garage.”

“Geographically Bury is quite small. We are one of the smallest authorities in Greater Manchester so we didn’t see there was a need for a second testing station.

“If there is a need we would have to go through a procurement process.”

Ms Lomax further told the committee that when she had analysed test availability there had been slots available within two working days “without fail”.

“So we feel we have got sufficient tests available,” she said.