Taxi cab and private hire drivers in Blackburn with Darwen are set to stage an escalating series of strike in the run up to Christmas over the cost of vehicle safety tests.

They are angry at the council's refusal to outsource the checks to private garages rather than insist all are conducted at the council's Motor Vehicle Service Station (MVSS) at its Davyfield Depot.

Conservative councillor and taxi driver Altaf 'Tiger' Patel warned the borough's executive board of the the action, after environment boss Jim Smith refused to change the authority's position.

The 1,100 drivers of both hackney carriage and private hire vehicles will stage four strikes on Mondays in December unless the testing regime is changed.

On December 5 they will stop operating for three hours from 9am until noon and the following Monday for five hours from 9am to 2pm.

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On December 19 the strike will last for eight hours from 9am until 5pm and if the dispute is still unresolved the driver will walk out for the full day on Boxing Day, December 26.

Cllr Smith said: "These strikes would be a shame and very regrettable.

"We will continue to talk to the drivers but we cannot compromise on safety."

Cllr Patel raised the issue of the cost of tests at Thursday night's meeting of Blackburn with Darwen Council's executive board.

He told Cllr Smith: "As a taxi driver myself I have had a lot of complaints from my colleagues as to why the council has kept the taxi MOT testing in-house, unlike some other local towns which have two or three independent approved MOT centres or a mix of council and private centres.

"The taxi business is not very profitable in the current climate and Blackburn with Darwen's MOT test charges are amongst the highest in Lancashire with this monopoly.

"Having renewed the council's MVSS contract in August for a further three years, would you please consider re-looking at this decision and allow other approved MOT centres to test taxis and help the taxi industry with more choice and a speedier service?"

Cllr Smith replied: "The main purpose of private hire and hackney carriage licensing is to protect the public and promote public safety.

"I believe that it best achieved by having one testing centre that will provide a consistent set of standards the public can trust.

"Seventy per cent of vehicles are at least 10 years old and 72 per cent of the fleet fail the first test, which suggested they are not fit to work as taxis in the days leading up to the test."

Cllr Patel said: "The taxi and private hire drivers are shoulder to shoulder on this. We cannot afford the cost of these tests."