Members considered a report in relation to the recently published Department for Transport guidance “Statutory Taxi & Private Hire Standards”.
The Senior Practitioner (Licensing), Worcestershire Regulatory Services (WRS), presented the report and in doing so explained that the guidance had been issued under section 177 of the Policing and Crime Act 2017. The Council would be under a legal duty to have regard to the Standards in its role as a public authority carrying out licensing functions under taxi and private hire legislation.
The background was that section 177 enabled the issuing of guidance to direct licensing authorities as to how to exercise their functions to protect children and vulnerable individuals. This latest guidance had been prompted to a large degree by the Jay and Casey reports into child sexual abuse and exploitation in Rotherham which had linked the involvement of taxi/private hire drivers to incidents of abuse of children.
The public consultation on the guidance had taken place between February 2019 and April 2019 and following a lengthy period of consideration of the responses, the guidance was issued on 21st July 2020. Members were referred to the text of the guidance which was attached to the report at Appendix 1.
In summary, the guidance (referred to hereinafter as the Standards), set out a number of recommendations to Licensing Authorities relating to the processes and procedures which should be in place for taxi and private hire licensing; there was a clear expectation from the Department of Transport that the recommendations should be implemented.
The members were referred to the list of recommendations at part 3.7 of the report, namely: -
· Criminality checks for licence holders
· Working with the Police
· Sharing information with other licensing authorities
· Dealing with complaints about drivers and operators
· Training for Members
· Criminal convictions and rehabilitation of offenders
· Safeguarding awareness advice, guidance and training for drivers
· Language proficiency
· CCTV in licensed vehicles
· Regulation of booking and dispatch staff
· Record keeping
The members were advised by the Senior Practitioner (Licensing), Worcestershire Regulatory Services (WRS), that the next stage would be for officers to review the existing policies and procedures to establish where changes would have to be made to bring them into line with the Standards. Examples of key policies this process would affect were the fit and proper test, the policy on previous convictions, the licence conditions and vehicle standards.
In responding to questions from members, the Senior Practitioner (Licensing), Worcestershire Regulatory Services (WRS), the following points were noted: -
· That most local authorities, including the District Council, were already implementing the majority of the recommendations, although there might be a few authorities that needed to make improvements. There was still however an exercise to be carried out to review the existing policies and pick up on any changes that might be required.
· With regard to DBS checks, these were currently renewed every three years. There was a safety net in place whereby any offences occurring in between checks should be reported either by the drivers or by the police. Under the recommendations, drivers would be asked to agree to join the DBS update service which would facilitate more regular checking of convictions, the recommended frequency being every six months.
· With regard to recording of complaints, there was already a system in place for these to be recoded and responded to, and a system available to log intelligence reports and look at trends. It was noted that statistics on complaints were reported back to Members via the WRS Board.
· Guidance for passengers was already issued on the Council’s website, but officers could look at other options for raising public awareness, including use of social media.
· Implementing the policies across the country would hopefully lead to a more cohesive approach from area to area and this was to be welcomed. One of the objectives was to encourage greater consistency around standards and this would hopefully mitigate the current situation where some authorities imposed less stringent requirements on applicants.
· There were also provisions included to promote cross boundary enforcement activities which could be used to make checks on to drivers operating outside of the geographic area where they had been licensed.
· Work was being carried out nationally and regionally by licensing officers to co-ordinate the approaches being taken in different areas and to try to align policies locally to deliver improved standards. It was noted that there was already a high degree of co-ordination within Worcestershire itself due to shared services being delivered to the six district councils by Worcestershire Regulatory Services
Members welcomed the introduction of the Standards and thanked the Senior Practitioner (Licensing) for his report. A request for Member training around Licensing to be updated to include the Standards was noted, and officers confirmed that this would be covered in the annual Licensing training.
RESOLVED that the contents of the report be noted.