TAXI drivers reacted angrily last night after councillors voted to increase licence fees.

A meeting of Darlington Borough Council's cabinet agreed to raise the fee for drivers' licences by nine per cent and the fee for Hackney and private hire vehicle licences by just over five per cent.

The move comes days before a meeting of taxi proprietors, council officials and police to discuss the shortage of cabbies in the town.

"I think it is ridiculous," said Mick Kennedy, chairman of Darlington Independent Taxi Traders' Organisation.

"The council doesn't seem to want taxis in the town. Here is a trade that is struggling to survive and all the council can do is put more of a financial burden on us."

Drivers' licences will increase by £5 to £60, while Hackney vehicle licences will go up by £15 to £305 and private hire cabs by the same amount to £290. The authority says that the extra money to be generated by the increase is needed to cover staff time spent dealing with complaints, reminder letters, the new compulsory driver tests and service improvements.

But in a letter opposing the increase, one taxi proprietor accused the council of trying to price companies out of business.

Mr Kennedy said drivers had been hit hard in the past year by the introduction of compulsory tests and police checks which they must pay for.

"We are having a hard time at the moment getting drivers and at the end of the day we are paying the council a fortune to offer the people of Darlington a service," he said.

Taxi proprietor Trevor Barnes said the fees increase, which is effective from April 1, may force firms to raise fares in the future.