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 required to have regard to the Standards in its role as a public authority carrying out licensing functions under taxi and private hire legislation.
It was noted 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 abuse of children and sexual 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. 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: -
It was noted that the Department for Transport would be expecting the recommendations contained within the Standards to be implemented unless there was a “compelling local reason” not to do so. This demonstrated the desire of the government to see consistent standards applied by licensing authorities across the country.
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: -
· The Council currently required applicants for licences to complete an essential skills test which included assessment of language skills. Guidance as to the expected level of proficiency in oral and written English was included in the Standards and officers would be reviewing the essential skills test to identify any changes needed to comply with the Standards.
· With regard to the recommendation in the Standards that all licensing authorities should provide safeguarding advice to the trade, Members were reminded that arrangements for such training to be made available had been in place prior to the Standards being issued. Sessions for taxi drivers in Redditch to receive child exploitation awareness training had taken place in 2019 with good attendance. The training sessions had been provided by an organisation called Young Solutions part funded by the Police and Crime Commissioner. It was envisaged that provision of this type of training would continue going forward.
· With regard to criminal convictions and rehabilitation of offenders, the Council already operated under a policy which gave guidance on how different offences should be considered in the granting and holding of licences. The Standards provided a template policy regarding convictions and officers would be reviewing this as against the Council’s existing policy.
· Officers estimated that following the work on updating the existing polices, the revised polices would be reported to Members at the March 2021 meeting of the Licensing Committee. There would then be a consultation exercise before the revised policies could be adopted.
· The government had not provided any examples of the types of situations which may allow a licensing authority to decide not to adopt part of the Standards on the grounds that there was a “compelling local reason” not to do so.
· The Standards included an Annex giving guidance about use of CCTV systems in taxis and private hire vehicles. However, the Standards were silent on the issue of whether or not licensing authorities should require the use of CCTV and this would be a local decision to be made by individual licensing authorities following local consultation. There were some complex issues around use of CCTV, including who should bear the cost and who the data controller would be. Some local licensing authorities had decided to introduce it.
· The agencies to which taxi drivers could report any concerns about potential child or sexual exploitation were Worcestershire Children First or the police, via the 101 number or Crime Stoppers.
Members welcomed the introduction of the Standards and thanked the Senior Practitioner (Licensing) for his report.
the contents of the report be noted.
[Note: Part way through this agenda item Councillor Salman Akbar had to give his apologies and leave the meeting. Councillor Roger Bennett took the chair as Vice Chair and chaired the remainder of the meeting.]