Richard Leonard accused the Scottish government on Tuesday of leaving taxi drivers in dire financial straits through a lack of support for the industry from Holyrood.
The Scottish Labour leader said First Minister Nicola Sturgeon cheated Scottish cabbies out of much-needed income because of delays in grants being awarded and an insufficient amount of financial support.
Answering a reply from Sturgeon, Leonard called the offer of a one-off £500 grant to Scottish cabbies “too little and too late” and said taxi drivers will face an “even bleaker Christmas” than before the post-holiday lockdown announcement over the weekend.
He said that the delay in payments was adding “insult to injury” and urged the Scottish Government to match the funding made available by the Labour administration in Wales.
"Nicola Sturgeon has short-changed Scotland's cabbies with an offer that is too little and too late," he said.
He warned that it may be "possible that they will be called on again to ferry Covid-infected patients to and from hospitals, given the discovery of this new strain of the virus".
"In light of this, it's simply not enough to offer cabbies facing these very real risks just £500", he added.
Leonard continued, urging the First Minister to "fast-track this support so that cabbies get it as close to Christmas as possible, given the losses they are facing".
"A failure to do the right thing here would be to let down Scotland's cabbies in the most difficult circumstances".
In response to Leonard's initial letter, the First Minister said that the support has been delayed to prevent payments being duplicated after the announcement of a specific, £19 million financial injection for the industry.
“I appreciate that the challenges facing this sector as a result of Covid-19 restrictions and regulations are particularly acute given the high fixed costs associated with operating and maintaining their vehicles".
Sturgeon stressed that with the vaccine roll-out and "the promise that this brings of reopening our economy next year" the government has pledged to "support as many businesses and self-employed people through the difficult months that lie ahead and that includes taxi and private hire vehicle drivers".
"The specifics of this funding package and how it will be delivered are to be set out in the coming days but it is intended to support taxi and private-hire drivers in meeting the fixed costs associated with operating their vehicles and other business expenses through the provision of a one-off grant of £500," she said.
She admitted that funding would not be able to "make up for all the losses that businesses and self-employed people have and are experiencing as a result of Covid-19 constraints" but the additional financial support would "provide an important and much needed source of support for taxi drivers and others through the challenging months ahead".
Taxi drivers in Northern Ireland are able to claim one-off grants of £1,500, while in Wales the industry has been offered £4,000 per-head.
— Edinburgh Cab Branch (@branch_cab) December 15, 2020
Leonard appeared to echo cab drivers' protests earlier in December outside the Scottish Parliament by opposing what they described as insufficient support during the coronavirus crisis.
Led by the trade union, Unite the Union, outside Holyrood, the demonstrations came after a survey of 200 taxi drivers found that 30 percent were unable to access financial help throughout the pandemic and 80 percent have seen a loss of three-quarters of their income.