A group of London black cab drivers in the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA) are calling for a special meeting to remove the current members of its elected board, arguing they have captured the association.
The LTDA is a co-operative society registered with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). It is democratically controlled by its 10,000 members through its elected board, the Council of Management (COM).
But a group of drivers in the LTDA claims the members have been frozen out of the decision-making process, leaving the co-op democratically unaccountable. They claim unconstitutional attempts have been made to expel LTDA members, assets have been sold without consultation and that the association itself has been left in a dangerous financial position.
Working through Anthony Collins Solicitors, the group has been raising its concerns with the FCA since 2018 and last month the group started a process to try to remove the current members of the COM. They say they have lost confidence in the board, which they argue has taken control of the LTDA and is preventing members from exercising their rights.
The group consists of 130 drivers and more than 300 have signed a petition in support.
Anthony Minas, one of the drivers involved in the campaign, told Co-op News: “There is no member participation within the organisation and there hasn’t been for nearly two years … We want to hand control back to the members.”
The group says members first had concerns about the way the COM was operating in 2016, and 20 drivers consulted Anthony Collins in October 2018, claiming they had been expelled from the LTDA without proper process.
These expulsions were subsequently withdrawn because they were defective, says Anthony Collins, which went on highlight several of its clients’ concerns with the FCA.
The group of members alleges the LTDA has been captured by a small group which over the years had taken control of the COM, consolidated its position and disenfranchised other members by:
- shutting down local branches, thereby effectively leaving most of the members without a voice
- rule changes which the member group alleged reduced the ability of members to participate, including preventing members from being able to call a special meeting
- obstructing attempts by members to exercise democratic rights, refusing to provide information, and seeking to expel members.
They also claim that the COM does not represent the membership – with four members of the board in place for more than 18 years.
As a result, the member group suggested that the LTDA no longer fulfils the requirements to be registered as a co-op and has asked the FCA to use its powers to address this.
Anthony Collins says they also expressed serious concerns about the “true financial position of the LTDA, employment contracts provided for members of the COM without disclosure of their salaries, and losses of over £4m in the last five years”.
In May 2019, the member group organised an application to the FCA, signed by over 100 drivers, to call a special meeting of the LTDA to propose to the membership the removal of the current members of the COM from office, and to enable their temporary replacement so that new elections could be held.
The LTDA’s rules provide for members to be able to remove COM members at a general meeting, but by virtue of purported rule changes the Council has prevented members from being able to call a special meeting.
In August 2019, the FCA told the member group it was satisfied they had shown a good reason to call a meeting, because the members had not had an opportunity for their views to be expressed by way of votes at a general meeting. And on 7 February 2020, the FCA told the member group it was willing to call a special meeting of the branches as a first step in the process.
Last month, the FCA confirmed its willingness, as requested by the member group, to call special meetings of the three branches as part of the normal process for holding a special meeting of the LTDA.
Discussions are continuing with the FCA in relation to the processes involved in holding the meetings, the matters to be considered, and the mechanism for decisions to be made.
Meanwhile, says Anthony Collins, the COM has re-commenced the process to expel a number of members; Taxi House, the headquarters building of the LTDA, was sold last year for £21m without any consultation of members; and the LTDA continues to operate with only one functioning branch in place, which represents 0.7% of its membership.
The COM is proceeding with elections which are held every three years under the rules. The member group says that the election process was initiated without the members being informed, and that one of the few eligible candidates has been disqualified from the process by the COM.
Mr Minas says he was eligible for the current COM elections and went through the nomination process ‘but at the 11th hour they stopped me because I was member of a social media platform”.
The member group submit that there cannot be fair and proper elections at this time because:
- the suspension of local branches means there are few candidates eligible to stand for election, and there are no branch secretaries in place to confirm to the returning officer a list of members entitled to vote;
- the election process is being conducted unfairly and without oversight;
- such elections will secure control of the LTDA by the incumbents for a further three years, providing almost no scope for members to express their views through the ballot box.
In March when the lock-down was imminent, it additionally called on the FCA to use its statutory powers to:
- call for documents relating to the validity of a number of unusual rule changes over recent years;
- demand full information from the LTDA about the remuneration received by members of the Council including pension and other benefits; and
- investigate further any matters arising from the above.
Mr Minas and fellow driver Kevin Paul told the News they were concerned how long the FCA is taking to resolve the issue, with proceedings being drawn out over 18 months “at great cost”.
Mr Paul said if the COM’s activities are allowed to stand, “This would mean co-op rules are worthless. There would be nothing to stop co-op boards taking members money and not following rules. If rules are there to protect members they should be acted on.”
Mr Paul added that the COM has tried to justify its attempts to expel members by labelling them as “instigators or extremists – and the people Anthony and I speak for are far from that.
“Everything we have done is democratic with consultation.”
Mr Paul and Mr Minas say the COM produced a report to justify its actions but this has only been seen by the FCA.
“The people running the LTDA are receiving huge salaries, pension schemes and healthcare – and they have sold our headquarters, the main asset of the association. We believe our association is in serious financial trouble.”
Mr Paul says they only heard about the sale of the HQ building from a third party source; he says the decision was made without consulting the members and full financial records of the transaction, or of the purchase of a new site, have not been released.
“What we want is accountability and a breakdown of the costs and the full financial accounts. They refuse point-black to let us have them, apart from the audited abbreviated ones. An external report suggests we could go broke in three years.”
“Our group started with five people and now there are 300 plus – and we want more member involvement.”
Mr Minas added: “The association is fit for the 21st century but the COM are not fit to run it.
“We want a special general meeting to remove COM outright and put in a new COM including co-op professionals to ensure it can never be captured again like that. It’s about the members deciding … The COM brag that members don’t want to get involved instead of encouraging them.”
Mr Paul said: “The London taxi trade has been decimated. We love our jobs and what we want is a strong organisation that protects members and represents them using all aspects of the law, with the help of co-ops around the UK. We need member control.”
In response, the COM has accused the group of opposing reform to the voting process.
After Co-op News approached the COM for a comment, a spokesperson replied with the statement: “The LTDA have been in recent discussions with the Financial Conduct Authority following a formal request by approximately 100 of our 10,000 members for a general meeting to be convened as part of their campaign to restrict reform to open and democratic member voting by all the membership.
“Whilst Covid-19 restrictions have affected this engagement with the FCA, the LTDA continues to support the case for black cabs as one of the safest forms of transport in London.”