Department for Transport (DfT) Statutory Taxi and Private Hire Vehicle Standards
The Executive Member for Neighbourhoods said that East Herts Council took its safeguarding responsibilities extremely seriously. It was for this reason that the Department for Transport’s revised standards and best practice guidance regarding the licensing of taxi drivers and operators, issued in July 2020, were very much welcomed. The revised standards recognised there was clear evidence that taxis and private hire vehicles could constitute a high-risk environment. Often passengers travel alone, sometimes late at night when public transport was not available and it was not uncommon for taxis to be used by children and young people unaccompanied by adults. There was therefore the opportunity for the use of taxis to facilitate the abuse and exploitation of children and vulnerable adults and in some cases such exploitation has been perpetrated by members of the trade itself.
Councillor Boylan explained that East Herts was not immune. In recent years, the council had revoked taxi drivers’ licences for sexual misconduct with passengers. Twice over the last couple of years the council has had to defend its decision on appeal. In both cases, the evidence-based approach taken by the council meant it was able successfully defend its decisions. This demonstrated how robust the council’s policies and procedures were, however, there was always room to strengthen the approach and hence the policies had been reviewed in light of the revised guidance. He thanked members of the Licensing Committee for their diligent attention to detail on this matter.
Following extensive consultation with the taxi trade, representatives of the night time economy, community groups, other local licensing authorities, stakeholders and the public, and consideration by the Licensing Committee, he recommended to Council the series of amendments to the council’s taxi related policies presented in Appendix 2 of the report. As a licensing authority, the Council were required to have regard to the DfT’s guidance and the proposed amendments demonstrated this. Taken as a whole, these amendments would act to strengthen the council’s ability to determine whether someone is a fit and proper person to hold a taxi driver’s licence or an operator’s licence and so, in turn, would further enhance the council’s ability to take swift action should any risk to the safety of the public arise and help to keep our residents and visitors safe.
Councillor Andrews commented that at the time of the Licensing Committee’s consideration, there was a very low level of engagement in the consultation. He hoped that in future, a better response would be given.
Councillor Goldspink confirmed that the Liberal Democrat group was happy to support the recommendations.
Councillor Boylan proposed and Councillor Andrews seconded, a motion that the recommendation be supported. A motion to support the recommendation having been proposed and seconded, was put to the meeting and a vote taken. The motion was declared CARRIED.
RESOLVED - That the policy changes detailed in
Appendix 1 (a to f) be approved, with a commencement date of the 1
The Service Manager for Licensing and Enforcement introduced the report. He said that there had been eight responses during the eight week consultation. Some amendments to policy had been made in response, such as recognising that it might not always be possible for a taxi firm to obtain a passenger’s name prior to pick-up, particularly on corporate accounts or where the taxi had been booked for the passenger by someone else. It was also recognised that it might have been too onerous for drivers to demonstrate their English proficiency at each licence renewal, and proof of a suitable English qualification would be accepted instead. There had been broad support for the wider use of CCTV, and further work would be done on this issue and presented to the Committee in due course.
Councillors Wilson and Goldspink asked about the possibility of the Council being challenged on its more stringent standards on drug-related convictions and said this might leave the Council open to challenge if there was no ‘compelling local reason’ for this.
The Service Manager said that the current standards had been approved by the Committee, but he understood Members’ concerns. It was agreed that he would establish the reason for the original decision and respond to Members outside of the meeting. However, the Council’s policy on handheld devices was in line with the Department for Transport’s (DfT) minimum standards and consultee’s responses that the policy seemed harsh would not constitute a compelling reason to amend it.
The Chairman said that he was disappointed with the low level of engagement with the consultation given the careful consideration and work on these matters by Committee and Officers. He was also concerned that the DfT considered taxis to be high-risk environments.
Councillor Crofton said that taxis could potentially be high-risk environments, but he was satisfied that the work of the Committee and Officers had significantly reduced this risk.
The Chairman asked how the Council could regulate firms outsourcing their booking operations. The Service Manager said that the Council had a right of inspection and firms would have to show that any third-party contractor was operating to the same required standards if this was requested. However, it was not mandatory for firms to inform the Council that they were outsourcing work.
Councillor Goldspink asked what the specific suggested steps to the Council were from response four in the consultation.
The Service Manager referred Members to Appendix B where the full wording of each response could be found and said Officers explained to the respondent the stringent standards the Council upheld and what checks were carried out on each taxi driver.
The Chairman and Councillor Bolton said that they were supportive of the increased use of CCTV within taxis across the District. This would protect both drivers and passengers, and could be gradually phased in alongside the requirement for drivers to have more environmentally friendly vehicles. The cost of in-vehicle CCTV systems was no longer prohibitive and could be used to record ... view the full minutes text for item 413