As befits a competitive marketplace, new entrants are appearing on a fairly regular basis on the Private Hire scene in London, perhaps encouraged by the likes of driver and rider matching operations like Uber, and perhaps not. Among those new entrants has appeared a company called ViaVan, or more properly ViaVan Transit BV.
Those who have spent time understanding the machinations of Uber will instantly recognise that this company is not UK based; its address is Weesperstraat 61, 1018 VN Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Where the tax régime is more favourable. But this is a mere detail: one detail of the ViaVan contract for Private Hire drivers has been attracting severely adverse publicity. And it is not difficult to see why.
Also, this matters for more reasons than just the London Private Hire market: ViaVan has recently secured an “in” to London’s bus operations. As the blurb says, “ViaVan … was awarded today [February 2019] by Transport for London (TfL) the contract for a 1-year demand responsive bus pilot in the borough of Sutton. The service will be operated in collaboration with Go-Ahead London and will use dynamically routed, on-demand buses to create an inexpensive and eco-friendly transport option”.
But back to that contract, which must have been lengthy and no doubt lucrative work for whichever lawyers drew it up. The contentious part is Section 11, described as “Indemnification and Hold Harmless”, which is about protecting against, and if necessary indemnifying ViaVan in respect of, claims arising from the Private Hire “partner’s” activities as one of those “partners”, and in particular Sub-Section (e).
This is the wording that has attracted attention: “Any claims or losses based on or resulting in whole or in part from an allegation by any person or entity (including a government agency) that you (or your employee, subcontractor, assignee or agent, or any other individuals you engage or supply to provide the Transportation Services) are employees or worker of the Company, including claims for wages, benefits, holiday pay, or other compensation of any type, and including claims under statutes intended to protect employees or workers and including any claim or demand from HMRC or other government body for taxes or national insurance contributions or penalties in relation thereto”. Why should that be contentious? Ah well.
This appears to suggest that if the Government enforce the law, and ViaVan is forced to comply with VAT and employment legislation, then ViaVan is saying that they want the driver to indemnify them against this. That looks as if it could be unlawful. Hence the attention that the ViaVan Private Hire contract is attracting right now.
TfL is, of course, already doing business with ViaVan. But if that Private Hire contract is indeed unlawful, then that would not be reason enough for not holding the company to account for it. Looks like another headache TfL could do without.
What you will not see in other media outlets. Not yet, anyhow.
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The only surprise is Grayling hasn't signed them up for, say, £33 millions.
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