TAXI drivers went on strike today over an ongoing licensing dispute.

The group of nearly 100 people gathered outside Bolton Town Hall and presented a petition to Bolton Council.

Asif Vali, chairman of the Private Hire Operators Association, led the protests, which focused on changes to the council policy which could see some drivers lose their licenses.

Town Hall bosses have said the issue is a matter of public safety and the changes are about dealing with a minority of drivers.

Mr Vali said that the protesters agreed that any sex offenders should have their licenses taken away but that it was “unfair” to target those with lesser spent or historical convictions.

He added: “Some of these convictions are going back 15, 20 or 25 years when drivers were younger, and they did silly things like we all do.”

He went on to say that the drivers had gathered more than 700 signatures and wanted to meet with council bosses within the week.

But Cllr Nick Peel, cabinet member for environmental services, says the council will not be swayed by strike action.

He said: “It’s a complete fabrication that licenses are being taken away for minor issues. I want to make it absolutely clear that we will not back down.”

A council spokesman said that they had been in contact with both the Private Hire Operators Association and Hackney Drivers Association and would be discussing the issues.

They added: “The policy enables Licensing Committee to consider police intelligence, criminal convictions and complaints when making a decision about granting or renewing a license.

“We would like to reassure the public that we will continue to take robust action and if they have concerns about drivers they can report these to us.

“Similarly if a driver is unhappy with any licensing decision they have the right of appeal to both Bolton Magistrates and Crown Courts.”

The policy changes came into force in 2016 but several drivers had their licenses revoked after a council review earlier this year.

Strike action had been threatened last week, and Mr Vali says that the strike could just be the first move in further action.

However, the decision was not supported by all taxi and private hire drivers, with Charles Oakes, who runs the Hackney Drivers Association, criticising the strike.

He said: “Nothing ever comes about in this trade because of striking. All you are doing is hurting the people that you are suppose to be doing a service for.

“Sometimes councils don’t get it right but striking is not the answer.”