(Original edit of article written for Taxi magazine. I like to cover the political spectrum, but this one would make Jeremy Corbyn proud):
During the EU referendum debate we kept hearing that the UK has the fifth biggest economy in the world. I find that hard to believe as I watch hospitals closing, the police and fire service cut, mental health care slashed, and a myriad of other austerity measures brought in. We’re actually living in a world where department stores are sold for a pound. If this is the fifth biggest economy, God knows what the fifth poorest economy is like. And we don’t hear about the recession any more: surely it’s not really over?
During our work we are uniquely placed to observe society from all angles. Driving along Brompton Road and around Sloane Square we can see the wealth, but we can see it is in the hands of a lucky few. We work here, but we know we don’t belong to this world. Our world is where the NHS is overstretched, medical waiting times are increasing, and there’s fierce competition for school places. Transport workers and firefighters have been on strike, and even junior doctors taken industrial action after changes to contracts were forced on them. We’ve seen soldiers at Chelsea barracks moved to less fashionable Woolwich, far from Central London, and their barracks converted into housing and shopping. Police and fire stations are sold off and boarded up, only to return later as blocks of luxury flats, ironically named something like “The Old Station.” This is London’s Prime Residential Market, where those with money can insulate themselves from the things that affect the majority of us by going private. Things are different where ordinary working people live. I wouldn’t even know where to buy a yacht or a pot of caviar outside Central London (if caviar comes in pots; I’m more a fish & chips man myself).
I’m not wealthy, nor are any of my family or friends. Most people I know have become less well-off and less secure over the past few years. Wages have not kept up with inflation and temporary contracts have become the norm. Self-employment status scams improve the employment figures, but zero-hours contracts equal zero security.
In transport, there’s only gloom and doom. There’s gridlock and pollution on the roads, unrest on the tubes, and overcrowded trains (people will need to start sitting on the roof if things get much worse). In our immediate world of private transport there’s a race to the bottom. It’s not just taxi drivers who are feeling the pinch: mini-cab demos are almost unheard of, but Uber and Addison Lee drivers have recently taken to the streets to express their concerns over reduced pay and worsening conditions.
Sometimes it appears that things aren’t so austere. TfL seem to have the resources to spend billions on crazy modernisation schemes (that’s road narrowing to you and I). The police still sit on motorway bridges all day and film people, and you still see pairs of them on horses clip-clopping around central London smiling for tourists’ cameras. They’re tied up every weekend looking after people on demos and marches, and coning off the streets. I don’t know who sanctions all these closures. It’s probably not the Police’s fault they’re sitting in vans all day watching people shouting and waving placards. No wonder the Police stations are never open to hand in lost property.
We read in Taxi recently how the LTDA was threatened by Uber, TfL and the Police for publicising sex attack statistics by private hire drivers. TfL and the Police said they don’t have the resources to tackle crime by holders of private hire licences, but resources are still there to hassle taxi trade magazines. Over 400 TfL employees are on over 100K year. Nice work if you can get it. TfL and the Police seem more interested in political correctness and PR than preventing crime. The Police objected to the LTDAs use of their trademark logo. Are they a force, a service; or merely a brand these days?
The money is clearly there in the world’s fifth biggest economy, but much of it seems to be in the hands of a minority. Public services are cut and the proceeds seem to be wasted on madcap road schemes, policing events that bring cities to a standstill, and protecting those in power against negative PR.
In London, we have a new mayor: maybe he can redress the balance? In the country as a whole we have to hope that the economy improves, so that we can all enjoy a bit more security. I know I’ll probably never have enough money for a yacht, but a new cab would be nice, and a few more customers would help things along.
Blimey, that was about as left wing as I’ve ever sounded – eat your heart out Red ken! Calls for hanging and flogging will be resumed in due course.
Copyright: Chris Ackrill, 2016.