COUNCIL bosses last night launched a crackdown on taxi drivers displaying the “English-speaking” stickers that have sparked a racism row.

They threatened cabbies with suspension if they display the St George’s and Union Flag stickers proclaiming they are “English-speaking” drivers.

It comes after the Daily Echo revealed that up to a dozen drivers were showing the notices in their rear windscreens in protest at the poor English of some ethnic minority cabbies.

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Taxi representatives, councillors and race campaigners have branded them “racist” and demanded they are removed. However, the issue has divided the trade.

Licensing chiefs were forced to act after they received a wave of complaints from drivers and the public. At least one notice was confiscated yesterday.

They have told the trade that any cabbie that has a sign or a St George flag in their taxi window will have their licence suspended if they do not take them down within seven days.

The council says they need permission to put up any sign. It is also asking members of the public to report any such signs.

Councillor Royston Smith, deputy leader of Southampton City Council, said: “Members of public and the taxi trade have expressed their concerns to us that these stickers are inappropriate so we are asking any taxi drivers in the city who are displaying these to take them down.”

Ged Grebby from campaign group Show Racism the Red Card backed the move.

“I don’t have a problem with displaying the cross of St George because this is a symbol we have managed to reclaim from the far right. But the ‘English-speaking driver’ part is where it crosses the line into racism.”

Big Brother Watch – a TaxPayers’ Alliance campaign group opposing intrusive council behaviour – last night criticised the council’s actions.

Director Alex Deane said: “Southampton council should leave these taxi drivers alone. Do they not have more important things to be dealing with than enforcing pointless rules and petty complaints?

“If a driver put up a sign saying they spoke Urdu, French or German, this decision would never have been made.”

Cllr Smith insisted the council had a “proactive approach”

to make sure taxi drivers can communicate well with passengers.

He said: “We are satisfied that all our drivers have good enough communication skills to do just that.

“We are one of the few authorities in the country to require all new taxi drivers to pass a basic written skills test before they can get a licence, and then they need to pass a level 2 BTEC qualification.”