Cherry pickers subvert regulatory process

In the afternoon of Christmas Day, there was some confusion, while we worked out the technology for how to watch the Queen's speech, a family tradition in the household of my friends, who had kindly invited me to dinner.

Having established it had been transmitted by itv this year and not BBC, we huddled around my smartphone on its side and turned up the volume.  When the National Anthem came on, my host got up from his chair and shuffled forward, so as to better hear on the small device what the Queen had to say. "Oh, do we stand up for the anthem?" I asked, also getting up, not wishing to cause offence.

Three years previously, on Christmas Day in a land far, far away, near Camano Island in Washington state, I had also called up the Queen's speech on a tablet via wifi, at breakfast in the Pacific Time Zone.  When she had finished, I said "isn't it marvellous that an unelected head of state can preach the Good News as well as any of her bishops or priests? When does your president speak to the nation?" I asked, "he doesn't" came the response.

On that occasion, my hosts thought it a quaint and quirky English practice.  But there is certainly a value in the performance and maintenance of these family traditions and even in the emergence of new ones.

Back at work after Christmas for the first time, New Year's Eve in Abingdon began much like any other Saturday night these days, with a lot of waiting around, before a busy period of four hours or so, between 2200 and 0200.  At one point after midnight, there was even a queue of potential punters on the taxi rank and no taxis to serve them.

That is an unprecedented situation, in these times when the rank is increasingly worked at the weekend by those Hackney Carriage drivers licensed by the Vale to work here, but who spend their week legally driving for Oxford private hire businesses.  They are the so-called 'cherry pickers' or chancers and they are subverting the regulatory process and ruining the traditional business model of a Hackney Carriage trade serving a local community, of which we ourselves are a part.

There are other councils in England and Wales who, amongst other terms and conditions, licence according to whether the person is working full time or not, but not in the Vale of White Horse, where there is also no limit on the number of licences which are issued, now more than three hundred taxis and nearly five hundred drivers.

The purpose of taxi licensing is to protect the public "by ensuring there are high standards of public safety" However, since the licensing service is now privatised, there is no realistic expectation of the situation improving in the foreseeable future, because there is minimal, if any, financial incentive for this to happen.