A new toolkit has been produced that aims to help local authorities get the most out of their annual £500m annual spend on private hire taxi contracts
This best practice toolkit is the result of a project jointly developed by the former North West Centre of Excellence (NWCE) – now the North West Improvement and Efficiency Partnership – and Merseytravel. The online toolkit, due to go live this month, aims to help councils to make substantial savings on their expenditure on private hire taxis by sharing examples of best practice and information.
A study by the University of Bath, which looked at the purchase of taxi services by councils, made a number of significant findings. One of these was that there is no standardisation of contract documentation. Critically, says the study, when searching for good practice on the procurement of taxis it was found that none existed regionally or nationally.
Other findings included: there is no conclusive proof that transport is most efficiently provided through outsourcing means; social care professionals and procurement professionals are critical in bringing about changes in the way taxi contracts are made; there is no evidence of formal partnership working, although informal information sharing exists, and there is some skepticism regarding collaboration; each authority has their own arrangement and there is little commonality of pricing structure, approach to route packaging, or outcome specifications; there is a lack of clear policies regarding transport provision by care professionals; and there is poor budgetary control with budget holders not challenged when overspending.
Neil Scales, chief executive and director general of Merseytravel, was working with the NWCE and the Buses & Taxis Division of the Department for Transport to complete the toolkit. He commented: “It’s findings such as these that prompted the move to create this online toolkit. It would seem that authorities across the country could benefit from sharing experience, best practice and, in some cases, spending power to procure a better deal for their taxi contracts.”
The online toolkit, which can be accessed at www.nwce.gov.uk, has been put together in two parts. The first section covers procurement issues, including general papers on taxi management within local authorities. There are also contributions from local authorities on framework contracts and the establishment of a quality taxi partnership.
The toolkit also looks at the advantages and disadvantages of taxi auctions. The London Borough of Hillingdon, for example, carried out an e-auction on 101 of the circa 160 routes operating in Hillingdon to take children with SEN to and from school. The results of the e-auction process was an overall saving on all 101 routes of around 33 per cent, which equated to an annual saving in the remaining tax year of £278,230, and in the calendar year of £384,421. This was subsequently reduced to around £250,000 for the calendar year by suppliers returning routes that proved unaffordable at the bid price, demonstrating nonetheless a significant efficiency gain.
Online is also an example of a Partnership NHS Foundation Trust contract document and an extract of a study into drivers for the purchase of taxi services and the factors that influence sourcing.
The second part of the toolkit focuses on training in the taxi industry and includes a number of papers and a presentation focused on the requirements of training for taxi drivers.
Essex County Council has provided an example of a Quality Taxi Partnership (QTP) that they set up in Basildon and Chelmsford, together with the local District Licensing Officers, taxi operators and the Essex Police, in 2001. The partnership addressed issues such as service quality, driver and vehicle standards, taxi infrastructure, accessibility, community safety, driver safety, incident reporting and recording, communication, partnership working, joint marketing, complementary public transport and a subsidised taxi scheme.
The subsidised taxi scheme alone, is delivering immediate and ongoing cost savings for partners estimated 8-15 per cent for each partner. Essex CC is now seeking to deliver this enhancement to taxi travel in the remaining ten districts of the County.
The toolkit also contains examples of taxi training schemes that have been put into practice; the Taxi and Private Hire Vehicle (PHV) industry contributes over £2.8bn to the UK economy and has 256,000 licensed drivers in England and Wales.
The co-producers of the toolkit Merseytravel have provided an overview of their Merseyside-wide Taxi Driver Training Programme, and its results, which has been taken up by a number of local licensing authorities including Bournemouth, Poole, Barnstaple, Birmingham, and Eastleigh to name a few. Some authorities have even made attaining qualifications under the programme a requirement for new drivers coming into the industry.
The North West Centre of Excellence (NWCE), now the North West Improvement and Efficiency Partnership (NWIEP), was the Communites and Local Government’s appointed lead Regional Centre of Excellence for transport and, as such, undertook a number of projects, including private hire taxi contracts, which were designed to encourage local authorities to look at the ways they had traditionally worked with transport providers and procured transport contracts.