At the invitation of the Chair, the Principal Officer (Licensing) Worcestershire Regulatory Services (WRS) presented their report.
Officers informed the Committee that on 17th October 2022 Members had directed Officers to undertake a consultation with the relevant stakeholders regarding delegating decisions for age criteria applications to WRS Licensing Officers.
The consultation period was conducted between 21st October 2022 and 16th December 2022, and was undertaken using an online survey tool. In total 121 responses were received, the replies and other comments received were detailed on pages 97 to 105 of the Public Reports pack.
The results of the consultation were originally due to be considered by the Licensing Committee on 9th January 2023. However, shortly before that meeting was due to begin, concerns were raised with Officers that some respondents to the survey may have purposefully submitted multiple responses. After an initial inspection, it was decided that further analysis of the responses received was required and with the approval of the Chair the item was deferred.
On further analysis of the responses received, it was identified that of the 122 responses, 82 had come from IP addresses which had submitted multiple responses, with 42 coming from a single IP address. There were further concerns raised regarding the period of time in which the responses were submitted with all the 42 replies from the single IP address being submitted during a 90-minute period.
Officers drew Members’ attention to Appendix 4 on page 107 of the Public Reports pack which detailed to Members where multiple responses were received from a single IP address.
Finally, Officers highlighted that after further discussion with Crossgates Depot, it was confirmed that a member of the safety inspection team would be available to assist with the age criteria extension vehicle examination should Members be minded to delegate the process to Officers.
During the course of a lengthy round of questions from Members, Officers clarified the following points:
Members then debated the results of the consultation.
Members supported a streamlined process which enabled Applicants to have a decision quicker, with less anxiety and less disruption to their work.
Members commented on the number of delegations that the Council gave to Officers and that Members were elected to make decisions and should be available to do so as that was part of their elected role.
Concerns were also raised regarding the impartiality of the Licensing Officers conducting the inspection if they had also processed the application. Members also expressed concern regarding one Officer essentially making the decision, as they would hold the overriding vote during a differing of opinion.
After comments from Members in regard to the impartiality of the proposed process, Officers agreed to report back to the Licencing Committee regularly with data on the number of decisions made, the outcomes (especially refusals) and the Officers involved. This would allow Members the opportunity to review the process and to ensure that there was a sufficient level of impartiality from WRS.
Members queried the possibility of having a more robust consultation process and raised ideas, which included a drop-in centre, approaching drivers on the ranks, inviting drivers to sit on a panel and sending a letter out to all drivers. However, Officers highlighted to Members that this might not be appropriate for a policy amendment and a reserved approach was advised, as historically responses to such consultations had not generated a large amount of interest.
Members raised their concerns with the corruption of the consultation data and were unhappy with the impact to the results. Members questioned the possibility of requiring respondents to include their name on future consultations, however, Officers advised Members to express caution as that could limit those wishing to submit responses to consultations.
In consideration of the above preamble Councillor Baker-Price proposed an Alternative Recommendation that the consultation be repeated with the proposed restriction of IPs to a single response, this was seconded by Councillor Khan. On being put to a vote the Alternative Recommendation was lost.
On being put to a vote it was
Officers proceed with the actions required to delegate authority to determine applications for licences to use vehicles as hackney carriages or private hire vehicles where the vehicle does not meet the Council’s required criteria in respect of the age of the vehicle.