An Environment and Safety Committee meeting held last week by Hastings Borough Council (HBC) finalised and approved a number of changes to the council’s taxi licensing policies.
The report which was unanimously accepted by councillors followed the issuing of statutory guidance in June last year by the Secretary of State for Transport which aims to protect children and vulnerable adults: “The importance of this cannot be overstated”, explained Licensing Officer Stewart Bryant.
“HBC does not currently have an all-encompassing private hire licensing policy, but it is now best practise and a requirement to do so,” said Mr Bryant.
Providing further background, Mr Bryant added: “Nationally there was evidence that taxi and private hire vehicles are high risk environments; this can be seen in abuse and exploitation of children and vulnerable adults facilitated—and in some cases perpetrated—by the trade.”
Among multiple minor changes, a series of bigger changes will be made to Council policy. Criminality checks of drivers will be increased. Previously, checks only had to be undertaken on drivers within a three year period. New standards ask, however, that checks be made every six months.
“A lot can happen in three years,” explained Mr Bryant, “and a lot can happen in six months, so we are subject to undertake those checks.”
Drivers will have to pay £13 a year towards the DBS service. If, however, they fail to sign up to the service, an enhanced DBS check will be required, resulting in a fee of £40. If still the driver failed and did not engage with Licensing Officers, they would then face suspension or the revoking of their licence.
“We would speak to them first,” explained Mr Bryant, “but if they refuse, we can’t just have people driving around without having been checked because we won’t know what they have been up to.”
Mr Bryant also revealed that from January next year, licensing authorities, as a condition of granting operator licenses, will require a register to be kept of all staff and dispatch vehicles to ensure the safeguarding of customers. Companies will be given a six months grace period in order to properly adjust to this new guidance.
Cautions and convictions are to be considered the same in applications, because although differing in nature, both are still admissions of an offence and so must be dealt with the same, councillors were told.
While in other jobs some convictions can be considered spent and are not seen by potential employers during the application process, this does not apply to taxi drivers, and thus the severity of offences will be considered as well as the time period since it occurred.
Every three years, Child Sex and Exploitation awareness, safeguarding and training will be required of private hire companies, at a cost of £13 per person. This follows events in Rotherham, in which taxi drivers participated in the sex trafficking, rape and abuse of underage girls. A provider for this training is currently being sought.
For new drivers the revised guidance will come in to effect immediately while for current drivers it will be phased in.
The council is also going to change its guidance regarding limousines.
Councillors on the committee were told that there has ben a blanket ban on licensing of limousines. That’s because the vehicles which typically are imported from Japan and the US are often created by welding two cars together; new guidance says these vehicles will now be reviewed as there have been cases of acceptable vehicles being rejected as a result of the of the blanket ban.