While many of their London-based cheerleaders have been silent - after all, the action has moved to somewhere almost 160 miles to the North - driver and rider matching service Uber has experienced another setback, this time in the Yorkshire city of Sheffield, where its operating licence has been suspended. And as with much of the fog of PR whataboutery generated in London, the true story is not getting out there.
As the BBC has reported, “Uber has had its licence suspended in Sheffield after it failed to respond to official requests about its management, the city council has said … The firm, also fighting a ban in London, can still operate in Sheffield until 18 December and can appeal against the decision, the council said … If it decides not to appeal, the suspension will come into force”. And how did Uber spin that one?
“Uber said that an ‘administrative error’ by the council was to blame and hoped to resolve the issue soon”. There was more. “An Uber spokesperson said: ‘We informed Sheffield City Council on 5 October that we would need to change the name on our licence as the named individual would soon be leaving the company … The council told us they couldn't change the name on the licence, as most other councils have done, and that we would instead have to apply for a new one”. That’s not the whole story, is it?
What Uber is not telling is hinted at by the Beeb’s report. “A Sheffield City spokesperson said: ‘Uber's licence was suspended last Friday (29 November) after the current licence holder failed to respond to requests, made by our licensing team, about the management of Uber’”. The current licence was suspended - it had not expired.
The Guardian’s report is marginally more revealing, telling “Mick Rix, the [GMB] national officer for the hackney and private-hire taxi trade, said he suspected that other considerations had played a part in the local authority’s decision to suspend the licence”. Dead right “other considerations” played a part in the decision.
So what really happened? Ah well. The Uber Sheffield licence was in the name of Jo Bertram, who gave notice at the start of October. Sheffield City Council will not transfer a licence to another holder, and so advised Uber to make another application, which they did. However, and here we encounter a significantly sized however, SCC also asked Ms Bertram, as the licence holder, a series of questions about Uber’s management.
These questions are now known as the “Gateshead FOI Questions”, after Uber was asked something similar when it applied for a licence there. But instead of answering them, Uber walked away, relying instead - by implication at least - on drivers covered by its licence in next-door Newcastle on Tyne. Thus far, Uber has failed to respond to requests by SCC which are of a similar nature to what Gateshead asked.
In other words, Uber claiming that their problem in Sheffield is someone else’s fault is disingenuous in the extreme. And as the questions asked of Ms Bertram are highly likely to be asked when the new licence application is considered, it’s entirely possible that Uber’s licence in Sheffield will remain suspended, however well they spin it.
With court cases on Uber’s use of “out of town” drivers in areas where they are not licensed on the way, it could get worse. The Uber house may be about to fall in.