Taking us for a ride: Tories hit by new cash-for-access row over taxi contract

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DAVID Cameron was hit by a new cash-for-access row last night over revelations a major Tory donor held talks about lucrative Government work with a Cabinet minister.

Taxi tycoon John Griffin, a star of TV’s Secret Millionaire who has given the party more than £250,000, used a lobbyist to set up the meeting with Philip Hammond when he was Transport Secretary.

The Addison Lee chief’s visit to the Department of Transport came less than a month after he gave the party two £50,000 donations on a single day, Electoral Commission records show.

Mr Griffin, whose London firm has a £170million annual turnover, discussed cutting the Government’s ministerial car service with Mr Hammond and employing firms like his own instead. He also talked about transport during the Olympics.

Last night the donor said he had also been to parties hosted by the Prime Minister at Downing Street and at Mr Cameron’s own home, where the PM’s wife Sam and the couple’s children were also present.

The visits to No10 were not revealed in the lists of wealthy backers entertained there, which aides were forced to produce after the cash-for-dinners scandal.

Disgraced Tory Treasurer Peter Cruddas resigned after boasting “premier league” supporters who give more than £250,000 are wined and dined by Mr Cameron and could even have a say on policy.

The latest cash-for-access row will come as a big blow to the PM who is still reeling from revelations about super-rich party donor Bill Ives, who was given a police caution for harassing his ex-wife.

Yesterday the Department for Transport insisted it was “entirely appropriate” for the Secretary of State to meet bosses of big transport firms.

But former Deputy PM John Prescott blasted: “It’s scandalous that Addison Lee paid the Tories a quarter of a million pounds, then touted for Government business.

“The taxpayer shouldn’t be taken for a ride by these modern day highwaymen.”

Shadow Transport Secretary Maria Eagle added: “It’s shocking a ‘premier league’ donor was given this kind of access to the then Transport Secretary.

“People will rightly be asking if ministers were willing to have their ears bent by vested interests, either at ‘kitchen suppers’ with the Prime Minister or in official meetings with ministers.”

Details of Mr Griffin’s meeting with Mr Hammond, who is now Defence Secretary, came after he sparked anger yesterday by ordering his drivers to use bus lanes. At the moment rival black cabs can use the lanes but private hire vehicles are banned.

The issue was raised by Mr Griffin at his meeting with Mr Hammond on October 13 last year, official minutes released under freedom of information laws show. The records reveal: “They discussed the Olympics, provision of secure cars for ministers and the background of the development of Addison Lee as a company.”

Mr Hammond “made clear no decision had been taken and that any option to move away from the current model for delivering the service towards private sector provision would have to be completed in accordance with public procurement rules”.

Mr Griffin told the minister that “having a dedicated car pool was an expensive luxury that private companies no longer provided for their employees”.

The minutes state he said: “They tended to leave it to other people, such as Addison Lee, to provide an ‘on demand’ service where the car and driver would not necessarily remain the same.”

Mr Griffin last night insisted he was not fishing for contracts and said he would be much better off talking to civil servants because they are “more influential”.

Mr Griffin said he deals mainly with FTSE 500 firms. He added: “They are our people. The big shots, not politicians. Politicians don’t have contracts but I like to go along and say hello because it is civil.”

He added: “Politicians are not running the country. Businessmen are. They are the housewives. We give them the money.”

Mr Griffin also sought to play down his access to Mr Cameron.

He said: “I’ve been twice to Number 10 Downing Street with about 70 other people there. I never spoke to him personally. I wasn’t going to be a brown-noser.”

Mr Griffin confirmed he had also been to the PM’s Notting Hill home around three years ago for a summer tea party which was attended by Sam and their kids.

He added: “I think there are people out there, quite forceful, who think ‘I’ve paid some money and you owe me something’, maybe there are, but I’m not that person.”

A spokesman for Mr Hammond said last night: “He does not recall having any information about donations to the Party at the time or when he subsequently met Mr Griffin in October 2011.”

The Conservative Party added: “There is no question of ­individuals gaining an unfair advantage by virtue of financial contributions.”

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Story taken from the daily mirror

TFL LETTER TO PHD WARNING THEM NOT TO BREAK THE LAW AND ENTER THE BUS LANES!!

Important information for all Private Hire Drivers and Operators
Under current regulations it is illegal for London private hire vehicles (PHVs) to drive in Bus Lanes operated by Transport for London (TfL) and London Local Authorities except when picking up and setting down passengers.

On Saturday 14 April it came to our attention that a letter had been issued by a director of Addison Lee plc to its PHV drivers in which he stated (among other things) that they were “fully entitled to use the bus lanes” and that he would indemnify them in respect of fines and other liabilities incurred as a result of following his advice.

A company owned by Addison Lee has brought legal proceedings arguing that the current regulations are in breach of European Union law. TfL is contesting those proceedings. The proceedings have not been determined and there has been no order by the court suspending the effect of the regulations.
The court will make its decision in due course. As regulatory authority for taxis and PHVs in London, TfL considers the decision to issue this letter inciting drivers to break the law now is irresponsible.

It has called upon them to rescind it. It is urgently considering legal and regulatory action against Addison Lee and will revoke their licence to operate if necessary.
However, quite separately from this action, TfL hereby issues the following notice to all licensed PHV drivers in London:
Under current regulations, driving a PHV in a Bus Lane, during the hours when the Bus Lane is operative (and other than to pick up and set down passengers) is a criminal offence for which PHV drivers may be personally prosecuted.

Those regulations remain valid until and unless there is a court order suspending their effect. There has been no such court order. This means that, as a PHV driver, you must not drive in Bus Lanes other than to pick up and set down passengers.

If you do so, you will be committing a criminal offence and you will be personally liable to prosecution, irrespective of any indemnity which anyone else may purport to give.
TfL has power to suspend or revoke a PHV operator’s or driver’s licence if it is no longer satisfied that the licence holder is fit to hold such a licence.
Please take note that:

o drivers who repeatedly contravene traffic regulations,
including by intentionally driving in Bus Lanes, other than to pick up or set down passengers, may be considered unfit to hold a PHV driver’s licence; and

o operators who encourage such conduct may be considered unfit to hold a PHV operator’s licence.

TfL requests operators to bring this notice to the attention of all their PHV drivers.

TFL PRESS RELEASE RE ADDISON LEE DRIVING IN BUS LANES

Addison Lee drivers warned not to drive in London’s bus lanes or face criminal prosecution

* Private hire vehicle drivers could be liable to personal criminal prosecution if they break traffic regulations, including by driving in bus lanes

* Drivers who repeatedly break traffic regulations could lose their PHV drivers’ licences

* Private Hire Vehicles are not allowed to use bus lanes in the capital and doing so is a criminal offence

* Police resources will be on street tomorrow morning to ensure bus lanes are only used by those vehicles permitted to do so

Transport for London today warned drivers employed by Private Hire Vehicle (PHV) company, Addison Lee, that they could face criminal prosecution if they drive in bus lanes; and that they could have their licences revoked if they do so repeatedly.

The warning comes after the management of Addison Lee told their drivers that they were entitled drive in bus lanes. Addison Lee has offered to indemnify their drivers against any penalties for driving in bus lanes. TfL has reminded drivers that such action is a criminal offence and they may be personally liable to prosecution, irrespective of any indemnity that Addison Lee may purport to give.

TfL are urgently considering legal and regulatory action against Addison Lee.

A company owned by Addison Lee has brought legal proceedings arguing that the current regulations are in breach of European Union law. TfL is contesting those proceedings, which have not been determined and there has been no order by the court suspending the regulations. The legal process is continuing.

Leon Daniels, Managing Director of Surface Transport, said: “The letter from the management of Addison Lee is utterly irresponsible. By issuing it, Addison Lee risk regulatory action against themselves and leave their staff liable to criminal prosecution. We have asked Addison Lee to withdraw their letter immediately. We are also writing to all Addison Lee drivers reminding them that repeated breaches of traffic regulations could see their licence to operate withdrawn.

“London’s bus lanes are in place to ensure the efficient operation of the bus network, which carries more than six million passengers a day. Allowing tens of thousands of Private Hire Vehicles to drive in bus lanes would seriously disrupt the bus network and our passengers’ ability to get around the capital.”

There are around 24,000 licensed taxis in London and over 60,000 licensed PHVs. Licensed taxis are allowed in many bus lanes. Taxis can legally ply for hire on the street, often picking up passengers from pavements by bus lanes. By contrast, PHVs are not allowed to ply for hire on the street. Allowing 60,000 additional vehicles into bus lanes would have a negative impact on bus journey times, potentially creating delays for millions of passengers.

TfL is working with the police to ensure additional on street police resources from tomorrow to enforce against anyone using a bus lane when not allowed to do so.