NEW proposals for charging fees for taxi licences have been described as “ridiculous”, as they are reportedly too hard to understand.

Taxi drivers and operators must apply for a licence from West Berkshire Council, who charge them a fee. The council wants to hike up the fee, to cover the increasing cost of paperwork required for licences and inspections.

But a consultation with the public and the taxi trade about proposed increases has been criticised as too difficult to understand.

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Currently private hire operators pay £559 for one to four vehicles, £898 for five to nine vehicles, and £1,390 for 10 or more. All licences are only for five years.

But the council wants to change to graduated system, where operators pay for the first vehicle — either £456 for a new licence or £342 for a renewal — and then £71.25 extra for each extra vehicle.

The changes would mean some operators having to pay up to an extra £128, while others would save up to £271.

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However, because the initial consultation was so difficult to understand, the council will have to carry out another consultation, with the changes explained more clearly.

The proposals for new licences were set out as: “New methodology schedule based on per vehicle calculation four hours (at £57 hourly rate) including first vehicle plus 15 minutes per additional vehicle. The fee is payable up to a maximum of 20 vehicles.”

Councillors on the licensing committee on January 27 criticised how complicated the proposals were explained.

Councillor Hilary Cole (Con, Chieveley & Cold Ash) said: “I’m struggling to find how complicated we can make things, when they could be quite simple and easy. We need to make things simpler and explain things better. It’s ridiculous.”

Suzanne McLaughlin, council officer, said: “Perhaps it wasn’t clear enough in the public consultation and the trade consultation as how they would be able to calculate the new fees, should they be approved.”

Taxi drivers told the council, in the first consultation, that the new fees are “way too high”. One said: “In the economic situation as it stands and the political turmoil caused by Brexit, this just makes the trade and the council look greedy.”

Some drivers complained that the council has not been inspecting taxi drivers and operators — part of what the licence fee is supposed to pay for.

One taxi driver said in the consultation: “They haven’t been carrying out [inspection checks] for years, despite feigning surprise when this has been raised in meetings and then assuring the committee that this was changing. It hasn’t.

“Perhaps the department would like to confirm how many operator licences are currently in force in West Berkshire and how many operator checks have actually been carried out in the last 12 months.”

Councillors in the licensing committee tried to reassure trade representatives in the meeting that inspection checks would be carried out.

Cllr James Cole (Con, Hungerford & Kintbury) said: “The intent is to charge for what we actually do, and to deal with the criticism that we have not been doing the inspections as we have been supposed to be doing. It’s far fairer.”