THE penalty points system for taxi drivers in Worcester is being changed - so politicians have less control over unruly cabbies.
In a bid to save money, Worcester City Council wants to slash the number of committee meetings where drivers face punishment for bad behaviour.
Instead, licensing officers are being handed powers to make behind-closed-doors decisions on the penalties.
The controversial new procedure will apply to appeals, so if cabbies think a decision is too harsh it will be handled by a member of staff.
Until now, disgruntled taxi drivers can appeal to a licensing sub-committee hearing, where three politicians from the main political parties are called to make a decision.
The change was voted through by the licensing committee by six votes to four, despite angry claims it is "anti democratic".
The council says since last June, when the penalty points system was toughened up to crack down on standards and better weed out poor drivers, five hearings have had to take place involving three different cabbies, costing taxpayers valuable money.
Councillor Alan Amos, speaking during the meeting, said: "I've got real concerns over this - there is no evidence the current scheme isn't working.
"We've had three drivers appeal since the scheme changed, hardly a flood. We are substituting a quasi-judicial function for an internal process, and that worries me.
"Yes, there may be costs involved in arranging these sub-committees but democracy has a price, and we should pay it.
"It's pretty bad and desperate. We're going down a slippery road."
The politicians also said licensing officers would be less likely to overturn a decision to award points as they are certain to know the fellow member of staff who originally dished it out.
Councillor Chris MIitchell said: "I agree with Alan totally - I've got great concerns that if we start marking our own homework, personalities will get in the way."
Under the council's rules penalty points can be handed out for a multitude of offences, from over-ranking to not giving the correct change, being rude or parking badly.
Before last June drivers needed to amass 20 points before they were hauled before a sub-committee and faced punishment, which could include being struck off, but it was reduced to 15.
Points also stay active for two years, whereas before last June it was only one, and appealing can often keep them away from punishment if it gets overturned, Some other politicians backed the change, saying they should trust the staff.
Councillor Roger Knight said: "If we can't trust our officers to adjudicate on points we shouldn't be employing them."
Councillor Jo Hodges said: "Are people now aware of the financial situation we are in because of the cuts?
"There is a great deal of costs to these committees, from booking the rooms to getting legal advice, gathering the councillors, all that could be saved."
The new procedure will start from September.