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 images with or without sound, in order to protect the privacy of passengers.
Councillors Crofton and Wilson said that the Council should be cautious not to place financially onerous requirements on firms and drivers, particularly in the current economic climate.
The Service Manager said that there was now a national register of drivers who had had a licence refused or revoked. This required each Council to sign up, but East Herts had been using information from this register and also sharing intelligence. He said that the Council had been championing CCTV for several years, and previously sourced funding to lower the cost of CCTV systems for licence holders. The Committee would receive a report on the possible further expansion of the use of CCTV later in the year.
Councillor Page said that it was clear the Council was doing good work to regulate licensed firms and drivers, but asked what was being done about unlicensed drivers.
The Manager said that the Council carried out night-time operations and did other work to discourage unlicensed pick-ups, as well as drivers from other districts touting for fares after a drop-off in East Herts. This was a difficult thing to prevent, but it was being addressed.
The Chairman commented that the Council had led on standardising regulation and enforcement across the county, and Officers had been supported in this by the Committee.
It was moved by the Chairman and seconded by Councillor Snowdon that the recommendations, as detailed, be approved. After being put to the meeting and a vote taken, the motion was declared CARRIED.
RESOLVED – that the Policy changes detailed within Appendix A (a to f) be recommended to Council for adoption with a commencement date of 1 June 2021.