Herts county council spending £1m a month on taxi fares - St Albans councillors respond

Potters Bar residents are being asked to give their views on transport in the town

Potters Bar residents are being asked to give their views on transport in the town - Credit: Archant

More than £1 million is being forked out by the county council each month on taxi fares, an investigation by the Herts Advertiser has revealed.

Analysis of council-published data shows that since January, Herts county council has spent more than £11.7 million on taxis – more than it has spent on child care fees, school lunches and bus services combined.

Local authorities are required to publish a monthly list of any payments it makes of £250 or more. Payments below £250 are not subject to the law, meaning the real figure is likely to be much higher.

The revelations come just weeks after £1.5 million was cut from bus services across the county, affecting services operating in and around St Albans.

The council’s astronomical taxi bill peaked in April, when payments categorised under ‘taxi contracts’, ‘client travel to school’, ‘client travel to non-school’ and ‘ACS (adult care services) contracts’ totalled £1,981,655 – meaning that the council spent an average of £66,055 per day on taxis throughout April.

County councillor Sandy Walkington (St Albans South) said: “These are startling figures and council taxpayers deserve an explanation. Every £100 spent on taxis is by definition £100 less cash for hard-pressed elderly care budgets - or for libraries or highway repairs.

“The council’s budgets are very big and in these challenging times it’s even more important that every penny is accounted for.”

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According to the data, the vast majority of the payments made to taxi firms (87 per cent) are categorised under the ambiguous label of ‘taxi contracts’ – meaning that they are not specifically attributed to ASC (providing transport for disabled adults) or helping disabled children to and from school.

However, a council spokesman confirmed that that entire cost of taxi fares could be attributed to transporting the 3,300 “children and vulnerable adults in taxis to schools, day centres, contact visits and respite centres”.

The spokesman went on: “For many, the taxi trips involve drop off and collection on a daily basis. None of the payments for taxis are to cover staff journeys.”

He confirmed that 2,159 special needs students, 70 students from the disabled children’s team, 64 students from the children looked after team, 604 vulnerable adults and 472 mainstream students were authorised to use council-funded taxis under the statutory transport policy.

The St Albans Green Party campaigned against cuts to bus services earlier this month. Green councillor, Simon Grover, said: “At a time when the county council has made drastic cuts to much-needed bus services, this raises questions about where their priorities lie with their transport budget.”

County councillor Chris White told the Herts Ad that if such a large amount was being spent on taxis, then the council should look into making savings.

He said: “It is a very large bill and they have got to look for way that it can be reduced. Maybe electric taxis are the way forward.”

Electric Blue, a St Albans-based start-up business, has been leasing electric taxis to individuals in the city since July. Company director, Alex Calnan, told the Herts Ad that by switching to electric taxis, drivers would be able to reduce their running costs by between 60 and 70 percent, and that the savings could be passed onto consumers if a big enough fleet were to adopt the technology.