Let’s face it, the decision today by TfL not to renew Uber’s licence to operate in London has not come about ultimately as a result of genuine concerns over passenger safety. It is a protectionist move to promote the business interests of London’s black cab drivers and to satisfy the unions and other left-wing activists who have latched onto Uber as a cause célèbre in their efforts to stamp out flexible ways of working. I don’t know much of what goes on the back rooms of Labour party HQ but it is fascinating that the decision has come to be made on the same day that it was announced that the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, will be speaking at next week’s Labour party conference after all. It is not hard to imagine the rousing reception that this erstwhile critic of Jeremy Corbyn will now receive, as a folk hero of the protectionists, a disrupter of the disrupters.
On its website, TfL explains its reasoning thus:
"TfL considers that Uber's approach and conduct demonstrate a lack of corporate responsibility in relation to a number of issues which have potential public safety and security implications.
• Its approach to reporting serious criminal offences.
• Its approach to how medical certificates are obtained.
• Its approach to how Enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks are obtained.
• Its approach to explaining the use of Greyball in London - software that could be used to block regulatory bodies from gaining full access to the app and prevent officials from undertaking regulatory or law enforcement duties."
If you are going to announce a decision which will affect the lives of 40,000 drivers and 3.5 million passengers annually, you might expect TfL to go into a bit more detail. In what way is Uber failing to report serious criminal offences, what practices has it been asked to follow and what warnings has it been given and what opportunities to conform with the appropriate regulations? The same applies to the other points. How is Uber obtaining its medical procedures and in what way is it putting passengers at risk? How are DBS checks being obtained which is unsatisfactory?
If Uber was a worker and TfL their employer, the unions would not tolerate such a terse and lightly-explained dismissal. They would want a union representative to be allowed to argue Uber’s case, and umpteen opportunities granted Uber to improve his performance. Different standards seem to apply, though, when it comes to a Labour-run authority issuing a licence to a company.
As for Sadiq Khan, while he is guaranteed a hero’s welcome in Brighton, he will also have to live with the distinction of being the mayor who threw 40,000 Londoners out of work on a single day. That might well come back to haunt him and the Labour party. Anyone else whose livelihood depends on flexible working practices has been given a warning of the consequences of a Labour government.