CONTROVERSIAL plans to make it easier for private hire taxis to operate in Worcester have been delayed until July - after angry cabbies packed into a council meeting to call it "disgraceful".

Worcester City Council wants to scrap the stringent exams private cabbies currently sit, which is based on detailed knowledge of city roads, and replace it with a watered-down version without any need to know anything about the routes.

Furious hackney carriage drivers have labelled it "a simpleton test" and say it will worsen standards and flood the market with new private hire drivers relying on SatNavs to get around.

The city council's licensing committee, which has going to launch it from April, has told officers to come back to the table with a better exam after viewing it in a meeting last night.

The main reason why the authority is launching an easier test is because the Law Commission has advised central Government that private hire cabbies do not need the same local knowledge as hackney drivers, which use the ranks.

The cabbies rely on phone calls for business and often take Worcester people out of the city to longer destinations, like airports.

After a two-hour debate the committee voted to postpone the new, easier exam 7-3 despite fierce disagreement, with one councillor saying the committee would look "a laughing stock".

During the vote Labour Councillor Simon Cronin joined six Tories in backing the delay.

Labour Councillor Paul Denham, who was against delaying it, said: "I don't think it would be fair, in fact it would make the committee look a laughing stock if we deferred it.

"We need to let it run and allow time to see if we get any complaints from the public over inadequate private hire drivers to allow us to to move forward."

Others disagreed, with Councillor Roger Knight saying he had "serious concerns".

"There is a groundswell of opinion against this change and if we're not careful, we will end up diluting standards," he said.

"We've seen the test and it's not fit for purpose, the council wants to ask private hire drivers to sit it once without any re-test at all, no local route knowledge and it asks people five random questions out of 120-odd, that's a paltry amount."

Two politicians not on the committee also turned up to object, with Joy Squires saying she'd had 51 letters about it, the most she has ever received over one single issue, while fellow Councillor Jabba Riaz said he feared the market being flooded with "cut price firms" after a quick buck.

Cllr Riaz said: "We had an incident today where a SatNav sent a driver to a school down a road which was a dead end, these sorts of incidents are rife.

"I do feel making this change would be a backward step for Worcester.

"If you do this you're creating an open floodgate, so to speak."

At the moment all private hire cabbies sit the same tough tests as hackney carriage drivers, meaning local knowledge is essential.

Mohammed Sajad, representing more than 300 people from Worcester Taxi Drivers Association, labelled the test "disgraceful" and said he feared it increasing congestion.

It will now be re-visited with a view to launching from July.