Council accused of £4m taxi bill

A COUNCIL has accused a union of taking the public for a ride over claims that the authority spent more than £4m of taxpayers cash on taxis.

The GMB announced on Friday that it wants Central Beds Council to explain why it spent £4.1m over 15 months on taxis - that equates to more than £13,000 a day - at a time when the nation is being asked to rein in spending.

A total of 37 different taxi firms throughout the county have been on the meter for Central Beds. One Houghton Regis company’s contact was worth nearly £741,000 alone while Leighton firm, Burgin Taxis, was paid nearly £40,000 between April 2010 and June this year.

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Warren Kenny, GMB regional officer for Central Bedfordshire, said the council should consider providing transport direct in house with their own fleet and drivers.

A GMB analysis of spending by the authority showed that it spent a total of £4,091,478 with 37 taxi companies based in the area. The information has been published by the council as part of the transparency initiative where all public bodies must reveal all spending above £500 to any supplier.

Mr Kenny said: “GMB will hand this information to an elected councillor with a request that questions be asked in the council chamber on this.

“We’d would like more information as to what all this expenditure is for. GMB, the union for private hire workers, would like to know how the contracts are let out and whether all firms in Central Beds were given a chance to bid for this work.

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“Another question that arises is whether, in the current climate of austerity, it might be cheaper for the council to provide this transport in house.

“GMB would also like to know how much of this is spent on taxis for councillors and senior officers. GMB disabled workers at LuDun lost their jobs because the council said it could not afford the £300,000 needed to keep it open.”

But Councillor Maurice Jones, deputy leader and executive member for corporate resources at the council, retorted: “The GMB are wide of the mark in suggesting that this relates to business travel for councillors and officers.

“The figures quoted are overwhelmingly for essential transport used for vulnerable children and adults who have educational needs and other requirements that the council is obliged to provide.

““We are acutely conscious of providing value for money and are currently in the process of re-tendering all of the routes for our service users and looking at alternative service delivery methods.”

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