The Chair highlighted to Members that the purpose of the report was to consider whether the Committee wished to allow the matter to go to consultation, it was not to reach a decision. The Chair further detailed that there would be an opportunity to debate and reach a decision at a future meeting of the Licencing Committee should Members be minded to agree to the consultation taking place.
The Chair invited the Principal Officer (Licencing), Worcestershire Regulatory Services (WRS), Dave Etheridge to present his report.
Mr. Etheridge presented his report and in doing so explained that currently any application to grant or renew a licence, where the vehicle had not met the Council’s requirements in respect of its age, had to be determined by Members at a Licensing Sub-Committee meeting. The report provided an opportunity for Members to consider whether they wished to delegate such decision making powers to Licensing Officers, WRS.
Mr. Etheridge further explained that during the Covid-19 pandemic such decisions had been delegated to Officers in order to reduce contact and limit the spread of the virus. Officers further detailed the systems that were in place during the Covid-19 pandemic in that:
Mr. Etheridge continued and stated that since the end of the Covid-19 pandemic and the removal of the emergency delegation to Licensing Officers, that there have been 36 Applications presented at Licensing Sub-Committee meetings. Mr. Etheridge further detailed that the number of applications had increased due to the cost of living crisis and that this had placed an even greater demand on Members and Licensing Officers as a result.
Mr. Etheridge explained that should Members be minded to put in place such delegated authority, it would be necessary to carry out an appropriate consultation exercise before any decision was made, therefore, Members were being asked to give consideration on whether they wished to carry out a consultation.
Members then asked questios of Mr. Etheridge.
Members asked Mr. Etheridge to describe the consultation process and asked if it would be available in multiple languages. Mr. Etheridge informed Members that the main medium of consultation would be an online survey and those most effected by the change would be the drivers and taxi operators who would be consulted with and invited to comment. The consultation would also be open to all Members not just those on the Licencing Committee, as well as the wider public if they desired to comment. Officers would also commit to looking at supplying the online survey in multiple languages.
Members questioned if there would be multiple Licensing Officers making the decision as the Sub-Committee maintained impartiality via utilising 3 Members. Mr. Etheridge stated that the decision would be made by a single Licensing Officer, however, they were free to seek a second opinion. Mr. Etheridge further highlighted that any decision would include photographic evidence and a full report would be written.
Mr. Etheridge commented that although appeals were very rare for age criteria vehicles, having the photographic evidence would allow for a more robust case in the event of an appeal being lodged.
The Chair detailed that Officers were looking into the viability to undertake the inspection alongside a vehicles 6 monthly safety check, this change would enable a second opinion via a mechanic present on site whilst also reducing any unnecessary inconvenience for the applicant.
Members then considered the proposal.
Members considered that there had not been enough consistency between the standard that Members deem exceptional and were of the opinion that Officers would offer better consistency in their decisions.
Members wished to be mindful that the reputation of Redditch Borough Council (RBC) was that it was Council led rather than Member led.
Members raised the issue of mental health among applicants, with applicants having to wait weeks or months until they were given a Licensing Sub-Committee meeting date, then waiting up to two hours during the Sub-Committee for their application to be heard. Therefore, Members highlighted that the process would be more efficient with less waiting time for applicants causing less anxiety.
Members expressed concern over the impartiality of a Licensing Officer who had been dealing with an applicant for the whole process and the decision being made by that same individual.
Members expressed the opinion that as elected Members they should not be delegating matters to Officers and that they should be making such decisions.
On being put to a vote it was