Met PC sacked for ‘dishonesty’ in dodging minicab fare after night out

A Met Police constable who got into a drunken row with a minicab driver over a £24 fare has been sacked.

Nicola Elston, 30, was told her conviction for making off without paying the fare amounted to gross misconduct when she appeared before a disciplinary hearing.

The panel heard that Elston, who has served with the force for seven years, was branded “relentlessly dishonest” by a judge following a three-day trial at Southwark crown court.

Michael Kirk, for the Met, said that on June 27 last year the Lambeth-based officer took a cab home to Croydon after a night drinking with colleagues but refused to pay the fare on arrival.

The panel was told she had a row with the driver, who claimed she punched him in the stomach. Elston was arrested hours later but told officers at her first interview that she was unable to recall the events of the night before.

She was charged last September and during her trial in March claimed she left the fare in the cab before getting out. Elston was cleared of the assault charge but fined for the fare evasion.

She was called to the disciplinary hearing to answer allegations her behaviour breached the Met’s standards for professional behaviour concerning honesty and integrity.

James Southgate, of the Met Police Federation, told the panel that the conviction had “devastated” Elston.

He added: “She must accept the court ruling but she disagrees with the outcome. She said she left the fare in the cab but the jury didn’t accept this. It did accept she did not assault the driver.

“She made a mistake. She accepts it, learned from it and the court has punished her for it. Please don’t take away this previously unblemished career.”

Elston wore her Pc’s uniform for the hour-long hearing but did not speak.

Assistant Commissioner Helen King concluded that she breached standards of honesty, saying her conviction and comments by the judge meant she could no longer work for the Met.

She added: “I must also consider the aggravating factors and what Londoners rightly expect from the force.”

source: http://www.standard.co.uk/

Should taxi driver vetting be toughened up in the wake of Rotherham sex abuse scandal?

Vera Baird

North East police chiefs and council leaders are calling on the Government to do more to protect taxi passengers

Crime chiefs and politicians have called on the Government to ensure that more protection is offered to taxi passengers from potential sex attackers.

It follows the Rotherham child abuse scandal and that in South Ribble, Lancashire, in which victims were ferried round by cabbies, some of who hadn’t been properly vetted.

A letter – signed by Vera Baird QC, Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria, Steve Ashman, Chief Constable for Northumbria Police, and the six council leaders who cover Tyne and Wear and Northumberland – has been sent to Transport Minister Chris Grayling.

In it they urged him to make the system of issuing taxi licences more open and transparent.

Currently, they say, it is possible for a private hire or hackney carriage driver to be refused a licence by one local authority only to be granted a licence by another.

Also, local authorities can issue a licence if they are satisfied an applicant is a “fit and proper” person.

However, there is no definition or criteria to what a “fit and proper” person should be.

Ms Baird said: “Rotherham has shown the importance of getting this issue right.

“We have to do all that we can to safeguard and protect vulnerable young people and adults. We are sending a clear message to government, they need to get the rules around issuing taxi licences sorted.

“There is only one chance to get it right and in the interests of safeguarding, no-one with a sexual or indecency offence should be driving a taxi. The Government needs to get this sorted, quickly and the North East stands ready to lead the way in delivering change in this area – but we can’t do it without the Government.”

The letter also urges Mr Grayling to review and update the guidelines as to what sort of criminal offences will be of particular concern when considering fitness and lengths of time whereby an applicant should be free of conviction.

All those who signed the letter said that regulations should make sure anyone with a sexual or indecency offence should be refused a licence, which is not the case at present.

Iain Malcolm, leader of South Tyneside Council, said: “As a group we will always come together to do whatever it takes to keep local residents safe. “It is ludicrous that taxis licence rules set by Government are open to different interpretation by different local authorities.

“This needs tightened up, the same rules should be applied in every area – then we will all have confidence in the rules being used to grant licences.”

The letter to Mr Grayling includes a recommendation that there should be a national database, similar to the Disclosure and Barring Service, of all applicants who have applied for a licence, using a national framework and the reasons for any refusal should be included on the database.

This would allow quick and easy access to local authority staff to see if previous applications have been made and the reasons for refusal.

A Government spokesperson said: “The Government is already leading work with the taxi and private hire vehicle sector to reduce the risks posed to children, young people and vulnerable adults from sexual exploitation by that very small number of drivers who seek to abuse their position of trust.

“Proposals under the Policing and Crime Bill will give Government the power to issue statutory guidance to local authorities so that their taxi and PHV licensing ensures the safeguarding of vulnerable passengers. This will be subject to public consultation.”

source: http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/

Commons Questions

Taxis: Disability

Department for Transport written question – answered on 15th September 2016.

Rob Marris Shadow Minister (Treasury)

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, what steps he is taking to increase the number of accessible taxis.

Andrew Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

Government is committed to giving disabled people the same access to transport services as other members of society. It also recognises the particularly significant role played by taxis and private hire vehicle (PHV) operators for many disabled people, in helping them to remain active and independent.

It is for local authorities to specify a number of accessible vehicles to be within their licensed taxi and private hire vehicle fleet, and to take account of their public sector equality duties when doing so.

‘Where to Guv, Raqqa?’ UK taxi drivers get Prevent training

Middle East Eye reports that taxi drivers in the UK are being trained to become the “eyes and ears” of local authorities and police in the hunt for potential terrorists as part of safeguarding schemes being rolled out across the country.

Drivers in several British towns and cities are receiving Prevent counter-terrorism training as part of mandatory “knowledge” tests introduced by local councils.

One flagship scheme, run by Calderdale Council in West Yorkshire, northern England, was considered so successful that councillors discussed extending it to staff working in takeaway food outlets and bars.

Manchester City Council also incorporated Prevent awareness into a safeguarding handbook issued to taxi drivers last year, while Dartford Borough Council in Kent is among the latest to introduce Prevent training as part of its safeguarding requirements for taxi drivers.

But taxi industry organisations and trade unions have raised concerns about the training which they say is being introduced in a piecemeal and inconsistent way across the country and risks creating an “air of suspicion” within communities.

Critics of Prevent also questioned the legality of the training and accused the Government of seeking to turn the UK into a “counter-terrorism state” in which citizens were expected to spy on each other.

“This is just one more proof, in a long line of evidence, that Prevent is a legalised, UK-wide spying exercise,” Abed Choudary, of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, told Middle East Eye.

Opponents of the Prevent scheme say it is based on flawed theories about the radicalisation process. Its advocates argue that it is primarily concerned with safeguarding those who are vulnerable to being drawn into extremism. At least 550,000 public-sector workers, including teachers and doctors have received training in spotting signs of radicalisation, according to the Home Office.

Calderdale’s taxi driver training scheme was highlighted in a document produced by the Local Government Association in December 2015 entitled “Councils’ role in preventing extremism”.

The document was produced in response to the introduction of the Prevent Duty last year which required public bodies including local councils and individual public-sector employees to demonstrate “due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”.

It describes how Calderdale had provided Prevent and other safeguarding training covering issues such as child sex exploitation and domestic abuse to 1,000 licensed taxi drivers in four-hour sessions over the space of three months.

“Taxi drivers have a unique reach into society. Ferrying passengers around, they get to see and hear things that the statutory agencies never could,” it says.

The training has also been made mandatory for new drivers applying for a taxi licence while existing licence-holders are required to complete the course every three years.

“Taxi drivers can play a really important role. They can be our eyes and ears. It is about helping them to understand when they may need to act,” said Jo Richmond, the council’s neighbourhoods and cohesion manager.

Richmond is due to talk about the scheme at a conference on “Tackling Radicalisation and Promoting Community Integration” aimed at public sector workers in November.

According to the LGA document, feedback from taxi drivers on the sessions was “extremely positive”. “It made me realise it’s not all about driving,” one driver was quoted as saying.

But when MEE approached taxi drivers in Halifax for comment, none were willing to speak about the scheme.

“They are just worried. They do it because it is going to earn them a living,” a local source told MEE after speaking to drivers in the town.

At a council meeting in October 2015, councillor Steve Sweeney said that several other councils were looking to follow a similar approach.

At a previous meeting of the council’s communities scrutiny panel, councillors had asked police whether the taxi driver training could be extended to “other people providing services such as takeaways and bars,” according to council minutes.

Calderdale, which covers the town of Halifax and surrounding areas, was made a Prevent priority area – one of 30 in the country – by the Home Office in 2015, meaning it receives funds both for a local Prevent coordinator and for projects run in conjunction with local communities and partners. Just over seven percent of the area’s 200,000 population identified themselves as Muslims at the last census in 2011.

Takeaways and bars

At the communities scrutiny panel meeting in September 2015, police officers told councillors that they spent more time working on far right threats than any other.

A report on the implementation of Prevent to the same panel in March 2015 highlighted the presence of an English Defence League (EDL) branch in the town and said that anti-Islamic and anti-Semitic hate incidents had been reported in the past 12 months.

But it also noted, as pertinent in the local context, that: “There continues to be empathy for the plight of individuals in Syria and Palestine and local charity collections/events continue to take place.”

Calderdale’s safeguarding training was implemented by West Yorkshire Police and an external trainer, Nadeem Mir, a former police chief inspector in Greater Manchester where he implemented a similar scheme.

In August 2015, Manchester City Council  issued a safeguarding handbook to 6,000 taxi drivers which contained a section on terrorism and extremism.

“The handbook has been developed to raise awareness about reporting crime and is an opportunity to encourage drivers who are the eyes and ears of our community to report intelligence and any suspicious activity to police,” said Chief Inspector Laura Marler of Greater Manchester Police.

The handbook tells taxi drivers that they should trust their instincts in reporting anything that they believe to be suspicious.

A case study describes a teenage girl on the way to the airport speaking on the phone to someone who she says she will meet her that night on the border of Syria. Another described a mobile phone left in the back of a taxi with a Nazi symbol as a screensaver.

“Preventing terrorism is challenging because it operates in a pre-criminal space before any criminal activity has taken place. It is about supporting and protecting people who might be susceptible to radicalisation, ensuring that they are diverted away before any crime is committed,” it says.

“The nature of your job means you are in contact with people all day long and in some cases for long periods of time. You will know instinctively when someone is acting suspiciously or if something is out of the norm.”

A spokesperson for Manchester City Council confirmed that the contents of the handbook were included in safeguarding tests for taxi licence applicants.

In Dartford, councillors in June agreed to introduce Prevent training as part of the “knowledge test” for taxi license applicants. A star-rated “Better Cab” accreditation scheme was introduced in which to acquire the maximum three-star rating drivers were required “to undertake and pass Council’s Prevent Training”.

A safeguarding advice document for drivers advises them to “take note of odd or unusual behaviour by tenants or guests at a property – terrorists need somewhere to live”.

Tougher licensing rules and mandatory safeguarding training for drivers have been introduced by many councils since a 2014 report into child sex abuse in the Yorkshire town of Rotherham concluded that taxi drivers had played a prominent role in the exploitation of hundreds of children over almost two decades.

In Calderdale, 17 men were convicted in June of systematically grooming and sexually abusing teenage girls in Halifax over a number of years.

Representatives of taxi driver trade organisations told MEE that safeguarding schemes were becoming more common, but questioned the inconsistent way in which they were being implemented and the expectation that drivers should monitor their customers.

‘At the end of the day we are only driving cabs’

“Not only have we got to spot potential sex offenders, now we have got to spot terrorists. There are all kinds of courses and schemes that taxi drivers have to take on and they just seem to be getting imposed. At the end of the day we are only driving cabs,” said Wayne Casey of the National Taxi Association.

Casey alos said that trade organisations and unions representing taxi drivers had not been consulted in developing appropriate courses.

Charles Oakes of the Bolton-based Hackney Drivers Association also said it was questionable whether safeguarding training would make any difference.

“It is basically just telling drivers what to look for. Usually these training sessions finish well within an hour,” he said.

“Taxi drivers are expected to be doctors, social workers, all sorts of things that this trade has never needed. I just wonder at times whether the councils are doing this to make themselves look good.”

Prevent, a strand of the government’s counter-terrorism strategy focused on tackling extremism, faces complaints that it is discriminatory against Muslims and based on flawed theories of radicalisation.

Its advocates argue that it is primarily concerned with safeguarding people vulnerable to being drawn into extremism and has made a positive impact in the lives of thousands of people, but questions have been raised about the quality and consistency of training.

MEE revealed earlier this month that 24 courses deemed unsuitable for a Home Office Prevent training catalogue were still being sold to schools and other public sector institutions.

But the extension of Prevent training to taxi drivers highlights the strategy’s reach in the private sector as well.

A spokesperson for the Unite union, which represents taxi drivers, told MEE: “This move has the potential to create an air of suspicion in communities where we should be building unity. Our members feel deeply uncomfortable with this approach and Unite will be lobbying politicians to rethink this ill thought out strategy.”

Kevin Blowe, the co-ordinator of the Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol), part of the Together Against Prevent activist campaign, said it was questionable whether making the training mandatory was legal.

“I don’t understand how this is lawful, because taxi drivers are neither public bodies nor government contractors,” he told MEE.

“If local councils start demanding that everyone they license must act as Prevent’s ‘eyes and ears,’ then that could spread to include landlord accreditation schemes, food premises, even music venues.

“It’s bending the laws to try and bring more and more people into the army of snoopers.”

Choudary, of the IHRC, said: “The UK has turned into a counter-terrorism state. A state in which the government views people, particularly Muslims, through a security prism and also encourages communities to view one another in the same way. This is the government getting its citizens to spy on one another.”

Middle East Eye sought comment several times from Calderdale Council but a spokesperson said there was nobody available. Dartford Borough Council did not respond to requests for comment.

 

source: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/taxi-drivers-prevent-training-767435376

 

Commons Questions

13th September 2016

Sarah Champion Shadow Minister (Home Office)

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, with reference to the letter of the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State to the right hon. Member for Rotherham on 8 July 2016, on clause 145 of the Policing and Crime Bill, when the Government expects to publish a timetable for its (a) consultation on tax and private hire vehicle licensing and (b) publication of guidance.

Andrew Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

The Government expects to publish the timetable for the full public consultation on the local authority Best Practice Guidance for Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles in advance of Royal Assent of the Policing and Crime Bill. The government aims to launch the full public consultation upon Royal Assent of the Bill.

The Guidance will be published following completion of the full public consultation and once any amendments have been made.

Sep 20

Met PC sacked for ‘dishonesty’ in dodging minicab fare after night out

A Met Police constable who got into a drunken row with a minicab driver over a £24 fare has been sacked.

Nicola Elston, 30, was told her conviction for making off without paying the fare amounted to gross misconduct when she appeared before a disciplinary hearing.

The panel heard that Elston, who has served with the force for seven years, was branded “relentlessly dishonest” by a judge following a three-day trial at Southwark crown court.

Michael Kirk, for the Met, said that on June 27 last year the Lambeth-based officer took a cab home to Croydon after a night drinking with colleagues but refused to pay the fare on arrival.

The panel was told she had a row with the driver, who claimed she punched him in the stomach. Elston was arrested hours later but told officers at her first interview that she was unable to recall the events of the night before.

She was charged last September and during her trial in March claimed she left the fare in the cab before getting out. Elston was cleared of the assault charge but fined for the fare evasion.

She was called to the disciplinary hearing to answer allegations her behaviour breached the Met’s standards for professional behaviour concerning honesty and integrity.

James Southgate, of the Met Police Federation, told the panel that the conviction had “devastated” Elston.

He added: “She must accept the court ruling but she disagrees with the outcome. She said she left the fare in the cab but the jury didn’t accept this. It did accept she did not assault the driver.

“She made a mistake. She accepts it, learned from it and the court has punished her for it. Please don’t take away this previously unblemished career.”

Elston wore her Pc’s uniform for the hour-long hearing but did not speak.

Assistant Commissioner Helen King concluded that she breached standards of honesty, saying her conviction and comments by the judge meant she could no longer work for the Met.

She added: “I must also consider the aggravating factors and what Londoners rightly expect from the force.”

source: http://www.standard.co.uk/

Sep 19

Should taxi driver vetting be toughened up in the wake of Rotherham sex abuse scandal?

Vera Baird

North East police chiefs and council leaders are calling on the Government to do more to protect taxi passengers

Crime chiefs and politicians have called on the Government to ensure that more protection is offered to taxi passengers from potential sex attackers.

It follows the Rotherham child abuse scandal and that in South Ribble, Lancashire, in which victims were ferried round by cabbies, some of who hadn’t been properly vetted.

A letter – signed by Vera Baird QC, Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria, Steve Ashman, Chief Constable for Northumbria Police, and the six council leaders who cover Tyne and Wear and Northumberland – has been sent to Transport Minister Chris Grayling.

In it they urged him to make the system of issuing taxi licences more open and transparent.

Currently, they say, it is possible for a private hire or hackney carriage driver to be refused a licence by one local authority only to be granted a licence by another.

Also, local authorities can issue a licence if they are satisfied an applicant is a “fit and proper” person.

However, there is no definition or criteria to what a “fit and proper” person should be.

Ms Baird said: “Rotherham has shown the importance of getting this issue right.

“We have to do all that we can to safeguard and protect vulnerable young people and adults. We are sending a clear message to government, they need to get the rules around issuing taxi licences sorted.

“There is only one chance to get it right and in the interests of safeguarding, no-one with a sexual or indecency offence should be driving a taxi. The Government needs to get this sorted, quickly and the North East stands ready to lead the way in delivering change in this area – but we can’t do it without the Government.”

The letter also urges Mr Grayling to review and update the guidelines as to what sort of criminal offences will be of particular concern when considering fitness and lengths of time whereby an applicant should be free of conviction.

All those who signed the letter said that regulations should make sure anyone with a sexual or indecency offence should be refused a licence, which is not the case at present.

Iain Malcolm, leader of South Tyneside Council, said: “As a group we will always come together to do whatever it takes to keep local residents safe. “It is ludicrous that taxis licence rules set by Government are open to different interpretation by different local authorities.

“This needs tightened up, the same rules should be applied in every area – then we will all have confidence in the rules being used to grant licences.”

The letter to Mr Grayling includes a recommendation that there should be a national database, similar to the Disclosure and Barring Service, of all applicants who have applied for a licence, using a national framework and the reasons for any refusal should be included on the database.

This would allow quick and easy access to local authority staff to see if previous applications have been made and the reasons for refusal.

A Government spokesperson said: “The Government is already leading work with the taxi and private hire vehicle sector to reduce the risks posed to children, young people and vulnerable adults from sexual exploitation by that very small number of drivers who seek to abuse their position of trust.

“Proposals under the Policing and Crime Bill will give Government the power to issue statutory guidance to local authorities so that their taxi and PHV licensing ensures the safeguarding of vulnerable passengers. This will be subject to public consultation.”

source: http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/

Sep 19

Commons Questions

Taxis: Disability

Department for Transport written question – answered on 15th September 2016.

Rob Marris Shadow Minister (Treasury)

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, what steps he is taking to increase the number of accessible taxis.

Andrew Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

Government is committed to giving disabled people the same access to transport services as other members of society. It also recognises the particularly significant role played by taxis and private hire vehicle (PHV) operators for many disabled people, in helping them to remain active and independent.

It is for local authorities to specify a number of accessible vehicles to be within their licensed taxi and private hire vehicle fleet, and to take account of their public sector equality duties when doing so.

Sep 16

‘Where to Guv, Raqqa?’ UK taxi drivers get Prevent training

Middle East Eye reports that taxi drivers in the UK are being trained to become the “eyes and ears” of local authorities and police in the hunt for potential terrorists as part of safeguarding schemes being rolled out across the country.

Drivers in several British towns and cities are receiving Prevent counter-terrorism training as part of mandatory “knowledge” tests introduced by local councils.

One flagship scheme, run by Calderdale Council in West Yorkshire, northern England, was considered so successful that councillors discussed extending it to staff working in takeaway food outlets and bars.

Manchester City Council also incorporated Prevent awareness into a safeguarding handbook issued to taxi drivers last year, while Dartford Borough Council in Kent is among the latest to introduce Prevent training as part of its safeguarding requirements for taxi drivers.

But taxi industry organisations and trade unions have raised concerns about the training which they say is being introduced in a piecemeal and inconsistent way across the country and risks creating an “air of suspicion” within communities.

Critics of Prevent also questioned the legality of the training and accused the Government of seeking to turn the UK into a “counter-terrorism state” in which citizens were expected to spy on each other.

“This is just one more proof, in a long line of evidence, that Prevent is a legalised, UK-wide spying exercise,” Abed Choudary, of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, told Middle East Eye.

Opponents of the Prevent scheme say it is based on flawed theories about the radicalisation process. Its advocates argue that it is primarily concerned with safeguarding those who are vulnerable to being drawn into extremism. At least 550,000 public-sector workers, including teachers and doctors have received training in spotting signs of radicalisation, according to the Home Office.

Calderdale’s taxi driver training scheme was highlighted in a document produced by the Local Government Association in December 2015 entitled “Councils’ role in preventing extremism”.

The document was produced in response to the introduction of the Prevent Duty last year which required public bodies including local councils and individual public-sector employees to demonstrate “due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”.

It describes how Calderdale had provided Prevent and other safeguarding training covering issues such as child sex exploitation and domestic abuse to 1,000 licensed taxi drivers in four-hour sessions over the space of three months.

“Taxi drivers have a unique reach into society. Ferrying passengers around, they get to see and hear things that the statutory agencies never could,” it says.

The training has also been made mandatory for new drivers applying for a taxi licence while existing licence-holders are required to complete the course every three years.

“Taxi drivers can play a really important role. They can be our eyes and ears. It is about helping them to understand when they may need to act,” said Jo Richmond, the council’s neighbourhoods and cohesion manager.

Richmond is due to talk about the scheme at a conference on “Tackling Radicalisation and Promoting Community Integration” aimed at public sector workers in November.

According to the LGA document, feedback from taxi drivers on the sessions was “extremely positive”. “It made me realise it’s not all about driving,” one driver was quoted as saying.

But when MEE approached taxi drivers in Halifax for comment, none were willing to speak about the scheme.

“They are just worried. They do it because it is going to earn them a living,” a local source told MEE after speaking to drivers in the town.

At a council meeting in October 2015, councillor Steve Sweeney said that several other councils were looking to follow a similar approach.

At a previous meeting of the council’s communities scrutiny panel, councillors had asked police whether the taxi driver training could be extended to “other people providing services such as takeaways and bars,” according to council minutes.

Calderdale, which covers the town of Halifax and surrounding areas, was made a Prevent priority area – one of 30 in the country – by the Home Office in 2015, meaning it receives funds both for a local Prevent coordinator and for projects run in conjunction with local communities and partners. Just over seven percent of the area’s 200,000 population identified themselves as Muslims at the last census in 2011.

Takeaways and bars

At the communities scrutiny panel meeting in September 2015, police officers told councillors that they spent more time working on far right threats than any other.

A report on the implementation of Prevent to the same panel in March 2015 highlighted the presence of an English Defence League (EDL) branch in the town and said that anti-Islamic and anti-Semitic hate incidents had been reported in the past 12 months.

But it also noted, as pertinent in the local context, that: “There continues to be empathy for the plight of individuals in Syria and Palestine and local charity collections/events continue to take place.”

Calderdale’s safeguarding training was implemented by West Yorkshire Police and an external trainer, Nadeem Mir, a former police chief inspector in Greater Manchester where he implemented a similar scheme.

In August 2015, Manchester City Council  issued a safeguarding handbook to 6,000 taxi drivers which contained a section on terrorism and extremism.

“The handbook has been developed to raise awareness about reporting crime and is an opportunity to encourage drivers who are the eyes and ears of our community to report intelligence and any suspicious activity to police,” said Chief Inspector Laura Marler of Greater Manchester Police.

The handbook tells taxi drivers that they should trust their instincts in reporting anything that they believe to be suspicious.

A case study describes a teenage girl on the way to the airport speaking on the phone to someone who she says she will meet her that night on the border of Syria. Another described a mobile phone left in the back of a taxi with a Nazi symbol as a screensaver.

“Preventing terrorism is challenging because it operates in a pre-criminal space before any criminal activity has taken place. It is about supporting and protecting people who might be susceptible to radicalisation, ensuring that they are diverted away before any crime is committed,” it says.

“The nature of your job means you are in contact with people all day long and in some cases for long periods of time. You will know instinctively when someone is acting suspiciously or if something is out of the norm.”

A spokesperson for Manchester City Council confirmed that the contents of the handbook were included in safeguarding tests for taxi licence applicants.

In Dartford, councillors in June agreed to introduce Prevent training as part of the “knowledge test” for taxi license applicants. A star-rated “Better Cab” accreditation scheme was introduced in which to acquire the maximum three-star rating drivers were required “to undertake and pass Council’s Prevent Training”.

A safeguarding advice document for drivers advises them to “take note of odd or unusual behaviour by tenants or guests at a property – terrorists need somewhere to live”.

Tougher licensing rules and mandatory safeguarding training for drivers have been introduced by many councils since a 2014 report into child sex abuse in the Yorkshire town of Rotherham concluded that taxi drivers had played a prominent role in the exploitation of hundreds of children over almost two decades.

In Calderdale, 17 men were convicted in June of systematically grooming and sexually abusing teenage girls in Halifax over a number of years.

Representatives of taxi driver trade organisations told MEE that safeguarding schemes were becoming more common, but questioned the inconsistent way in which they were being implemented and the expectation that drivers should monitor their customers.

‘At the end of the day we are only driving cabs’

“Not only have we got to spot potential sex offenders, now we have got to spot terrorists. There are all kinds of courses and schemes that taxi drivers have to take on and they just seem to be getting imposed. At the end of the day we are only driving cabs,” said Wayne Casey of the National Taxi Association.

Casey alos said that trade organisations and unions representing taxi drivers had not been consulted in developing appropriate courses.

Charles Oakes of the Bolton-based Hackney Drivers Association also said it was questionable whether safeguarding training would make any difference.

“It is basically just telling drivers what to look for. Usually these training sessions finish well within an hour,” he said.

“Taxi drivers are expected to be doctors, social workers, all sorts of things that this trade has never needed. I just wonder at times whether the councils are doing this to make themselves look good.”

Prevent, a strand of the government’s counter-terrorism strategy focused on tackling extremism, faces complaints that it is discriminatory against Muslims and based on flawed theories of radicalisation.

Its advocates argue that it is primarily concerned with safeguarding people vulnerable to being drawn into extremism and has made a positive impact in the lives of thousands of people, but questions have been raised about the quality and consistency of training.

MEE revealed earlier this month that 24 courses deemed unsuitable for a Home Office Prevent training catalogue were still being sold to schools and other public sector institutions.

But the extension of Prevent training to taxi drivers highlights the strategy’s reach in the private sector as well.

A spokesperson for the Unite union, which represents taxi drivers, told MEE: “This move has the potential to create an air of suspicion in communities where we should be building unity. Our members feel deeply uncomfortable with this approach and Unite will be lobbying politicians to rethink this ill thought out strategy.”

Kevin Blowe, the co-ordinator of the Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol), part of the Together Against Prevent activist campaign, said it was questionable whether making the training mandatory was legal.

“I don’t understand how this is lawful, because taxi drivers are neither public bodies nor government contractors,” he told MEE.

“If local councils start demanding that everyone they license must act as Prevent’s ‘eyes and ears,’ then that could spread to include landlord accreditation schemes, food premises, even music venues.

“It’s bending the laws to try and bring more and more people into the army of snoopers.”

Choudary, of the IHRC, said: “The UK has turned into a counter-terrorism state. A state in which the government views people, particularly Muslims, through a security prism and also encourages communities to view one another in the same way. This is the government getting its citizens to spy on one another.”

Middle East Eye sought comment several times from Calderdale Council but a spokesperson said there was nobody available. Dartford Borough Council did not respond to requests for comment.

 

source: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/taxi-drivers-prevent-training-767435376

 

Sep 16

Commons Questions

13th September 2016

Sarah Champion Shadow Minister (Home Office)

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, with reference to the letter of the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State to the right hon. Member for Rotherham on 8 July 2016, on clause 145 of the Policing and Crime Bill, when the Government expects to publish a timetable for its (a) consultation on tax and private hire vehicle licensing and (b) publication of guidance.

Andrew Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

The Government expects to publish the timetable for the full public consultation on the local authority Best Practice Guidance for Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles in advance of Royal Assent of the Policing and Crime Bill. The government aims to launch the full public consultation upon Royal Assent of the Bill.

The Guidance will be published following completion of the full public consultation and once any amendments have been made.

Sep 16

250 Derby taxi drivers get licenced in LANCASHIRE – to avoid local knowledge test

The Derby Telegraph reports that more than 250 Derby taxi drivers have registered in a town in Lancashire where they do not have to take a “knowledge” test.

A total of 254 people with Derby addresses are officially licensed in Rossendale, 103 miles away. There are 1,500 taxi drivers licensed with Derby City Council.

Rossendale Borough Council said it has handed out the licenses to people with Derby addresses since the start of 2013.

Derby City Council said it is powerless to stop drivers with licences handed out by other authorities from working in Derby because of a loophole in the law.

To obtain a Derby licence, drivers must first pass a knowledge test, which looks at their expertise in getting around the city, before they are awarded their badge. But some other councils do not require drivers to take the test.

Mark Keenan, managing director of Derby-based taxi firm Western Cars, believes this is the reason people are travelling further afield to gain their qualifications. He said: “Out-of-town councils should stop issuing licences for people who aren’t going to work in the area, it needs looking at.

“It drops standards and gives the trade a bad name, everyone gets tarred under the same brush. I find it very unfortunate for the drivers in Derby who have gone through what they have to go through with the knowledge test and proving their ability.”

Currently, the law allows anyone with a Hackney Carriage (taxi) licence to operate as a private hire car anywhere in the country. Taxis can pick up passengers anywhere but private hire cars have to be pre-booked by law.

Mr Keenan said drivers from Derby have, in the past, applied for a licence from the city council, failed the knowledge test and then obtained their licence elsewhere. He said this had happened in areas such as Erewash, Derbyshire Dales, Gedling, in Nottinghamshire, East Staffordshire and South Yorkshire, as well as Rossendale.

When asked if the knowledge test in Derby was too difficult, Mr Keenan said: “No it’s not, 1,500 drivers in Derby have managed to pass so it can’t be that difficult. This has been going on for the best part of three years, now. We [Western Cars] made a decision that we would not have any vehicles or drivers on our books who had not taken the tests. We never have and that’s because some of these out-of-town vehicles don’t meet the standards that our vehicles do.

“I have people come to me for a job with other licences and I say, ‘Pass your Derby test and come back to me’.”

Not only is the city council powerless to prevent drivers from other areas working in Derby but it also has no jurisdiction to stop their vehicles for safety inspections. That, Mr Keenan says, is something that needs to be combated by a change in the law from central government.

Brian Yasin, part-time driver and consultant for Albatross Cars in Derby, agreed there was a problem that threatened to drop the standard of taxi services in Derby. He said: “Some of the other councils were throwing out badges like confetti. I know drivers with Rossendale badges who work in London.

“I have been driving a taxi for 17 years and I don’t use a sat-nav even now. When I started, I learnt my job but a lot of drivers now just use a GPS and don’t know the roads.” Mr Yasin holds workshops for drivers in an attempt to increase their knowledge of driving in the city.

Jamal Rashid, 25, also works as a private hire driver for Albatross. He said: “The cars are not insured to be used in Derby. Although the law allows them to do it, the insurance is given to them because the companies think they are driving in the area where they get their licences. It’s a big problem.”

Rossendale Borough Council said it introduced an “intended use policy” as part of its application process in an attempt to prevent out-of-town drivers gaining licences from the authority. A spokeswoman said: “Once a vehicle has been licensed as a hackney carriage it is a hackney carriage for the duration of that licence, wherever it is currently located, and can therefore be used for pre-booked purposes in any district in England and Wales.

“Additionally, it is not an offence for a licenced private hire operator to take bookings and then dispatch a hackney carriage licenced by a district which is different from that which licences the operator – a hackney carriage can lawfully be used for pre-booked work outside its district.”

Councillor Baggy Shanker, responsible for taxi licencing in Derby, said the council was aware drivers had been gaining qualifications in Rossendale. He said the council had been working with both Gedling and Rossendale councils in order reduce the number of out-of-town taxis operating in Derby. He said a “local knowledge test” had been introduced in Gedling and officers from Rossendale had visited the city to conduct spot checks.

Labour councillor Mr Shanker said: “Rossendale has agreed to carry out joint enforcement exercises and one such joint exercise has been conducted, during which five out of six vehicles licensed in their area had their licenses suspended. It is hoped that more such exercises will be undertaken in the future.”

The Department for Transport sets taxi licensing laws for England and Wales. A spokesman said: “There are currently no plans to introduce standardised licensing criteria. Excluding Hackney Carriages from obtaining a fare for a return journey to the area in which they are licensed would diminish the availability of Hackney Carriages or restrict the areas in which they would be willing to carry passengers.

“We are currently considering all recommendations in the Law Commission’s report which included national standards and will formally respond in due course.”

EXAMPLES OF TAXI LICENCE TEST QUESTIONS FOR APPLICANTS IN DERBY

Derby City Council knowledge test:

    •1. Where are the following located?

For example The Council House – answer would be Corporation Street.

    •2. Describe the route you would take with a fare between the following locations including road names and direction turns, roundabouts, exits.

McDonalds (Ashbourne Road) to Seymours Bar

    •3.Describe how you would proceed to these locations from the city centre and the roads you would use.

Belper

Rossendale Borough Council does not offer such a test. Applicants must only pass a basic skills test which, the authority says, involves “maths and English (BKSB Level 1 Functional Skills assessments) tests, together with customer service, licensing policy and child sexual exploitation awareness training”.

Read more at http://www.derbytelegraph.co.uk/

Sep 16

Private Hire drivers guilty of picking up illegal fares in Milton Keynes

Two private hire drivers have been convicted at Milton Keynes Magistrates Court of picking up passengers illegally – known as ‘blagging’ – in the town.

Bi Trazie Alain Fegone, of Nelson Way, Rugby, attended court and pleaded guilty to plying for hire and driving without valid motor insurance.

Javen Hussain, of Grantham Road, Luton, did not attend court, but was found guilty in absence of plying for hire and driving without valid motor insurance.

The prosecutions were brought as a result of a joint enforcement operation carried out by Milton Keynes Council’s Taxi Enforcement team and Thames Valley Police.

Private hire vehicles can only pick up passengers by prior appointment only – if a driver stops to pick up passengers on the street without pre-booking, it invalidates their car insurance.

Fegone was fined £40 for plying for hire and £120 for invalid motor insurance. He was also given six penalty points and has to pay costs of £320, with a victim surcharge of £20.

Hussain was fined £220 for plying for hire and £660 for invalid motor insurance. He was also given 6 points on his licence and has to pay costs of £930 and a victim surcharge of £66.

The court heard that on the weekend of May 7/8, enforcement officers, acting as members of the public, engaged the drivers on journeys which had not been pre-booked from one location to another in Milton Keynes.

At the completion of these journeys, taxi enforcement officers from Milton Keynes Council and officers from Thames Valley Police were waiting. Investigations showed neither of the drivers were allocated legitimate collections from the locations they were caught plying from.

The vehicles involved were displaying private hire door signs for Private Hire Operator Speedline and were licensed by South Northants Council.

Cllr Mick Legg, the Cabinet Member responsible for taxi licensing policy, said: “Licensed drivers are in a position of trust and members of the public expect that anyone driving a licensed vehicle has the correct licence and insurance to do so.

“These taxi drivers must take personal responsibility for the safety of everyone they carry in their private hire vehicles. Illegally plying for hire and driving without appropriate insurance cover means that passengers have little or no legal protection whilst travelling in these vehicles.”

Read more at http://www.onemk.co.uk/

Sep 16

Rossendale taxi licence applications facing backlog until next year

All private hire and hackney cab drivers are now required to pass a basic skills test

Prospective taxi drivers are having to wait until 2017 before they can pass a ‘basic skills test’ to get them on the roads, we can reveal.

Under new rules all new private hire and hackney drivers are required to complete a basic skills test, and Rossendale licensing bosses are only accepting new applications from those who have passed.

However, new drivers are now being told they have to wait until 2017 to take the test – despite many having already completed the other mandatory requirements.

A spokesperson for Rossendale council said the test is allocated on a “first come first served basis” and due to the level of demand is booked up until January 2017.

They said: “We do urge applicants to apply in the area in which they live and, or intend to work and to have in mind current and proposed policy requirements before proceeding to book a test slot.”

IT consultant Mohammed Khan has complained to the council after his brother-in-law was told he would have to wait until January 6 to take his test.

Mr Khan said: “They’ve implemented this for new drivers but haven’t provided enough adequate provision to enable people to get this test. It’s ridiculous that they only run the assessments Monday and Friday for less than three hours.

“This is a good requirement but they haven’t put the required resources for the assessments.”

The skills test was introduced as part of new policies cracking down on the trade following continuing criticism from other boroughs of the standards of thousands of Rossendale taxis operating outside the Valley.

Taxi drivers from Rossendale protested against licensing changes last month.

Rossendale Taxi Association member Glen Bulcock said it’s causing “a lot of strife” in the trade.

He added: “We pointed out these pitfalls but were ignored. Now people are out of work while they’re waiting for badges.”

Coun Steve Hughes, chairman of the licensing committee, said the situation was not “ideal” but its purpose was to ‘raise standards’ across the trade.

He said: “It’s a difficult situation to control given the numbers we have had come through and the demands on the service. It’s caused a backlog. It’s not an ideal situation that people have to wait so long. We know of the problem, we are just trying to work through it.”

However, he added: “It’s a need to raise the standards and taxis within Rossendale. It’s not necessarily about reducing the number of taxis. Although that is a consideration this is about improving the quality of the taxi service.”

A proposal to extend the requirement to pass a basic skills test to driver licence renewals is currently being consulted on.

source: http://www.rossendalefreepress.co.uk/

Sep 14

Leeds taxi and private hire firms ‘treat disabled people as second-class citizens’

Disabled people in Leeds are being treated like “second-class citizens” by taxi and private hire firms, a campaigner has claimed.

Nathan Popple, who has severe disabilities due to cerebral palsy, claims to have been quoted £108 for a one-way trip in a wheelchair accessible car for a 5.6 mile journey from his Adel home to Armley. .

The 18-year-old is behind the Accessible Leeds website, which rates services in the city on how they cater for disabled people.

The quote came after his wheelchair accessible car became unusable after an accident. He claims to have been rejected travel by private hire drivers in Leeds, while drivers of Hackney carriages, or black cabs, often fail to stop for him or refuse to help him in or out of their vehicles.

In a letter of complaint sent to operators, MPs and Leeds City Council leaders, he said major firms in the city “treat disabled people as second-class citizens”.

He continued: “Complaints about these companies need to be taken seriously and real action needs to be taken against them. “At the minute Leeds feels like a no-go area for disabled people.”

Mr Popple said that despite many private hire firms advertising that their vehicles are wheelchair accessible, prices are “awful” for disabled people.

He claims other private hire firms offered the Adel to Armley return trip for £60 or £30 but offered either limited times or refused advanced bookings.

“There are endless stories of taxis not showing up, driving away or refusing to stop for disabled people, refusing to state a collection time or simply overcharging,” he said.

“Disabled people have a massive amount to give to our communities and to our city. I am not asking for special treatment, I am asking for fairness.”

A spokeswoman for Leeds City Council said: “We are always very concerned to hear about taxi and private hire drivers in Leeds who do not treat all passengers equally and will be investigating Mr Popple’s complaints.

She explained that all new taxi or private hire licence applicants receive customer care training that emphasises fair treatment for all, although the council has no control over charges levied.

The council can revoke private hire licences if complaints are received and proven. Hackney carriage drivers must also abide by the Equality Act 2010 or face possible prosecution.

Neither the Leeds Private Hire Drivers Association nor Unite the Union’s Leeds Hackney carriage branch were available to comment when contacted by Yorkshire Post Newspapers.

Read more at: http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk

 

Union calls for taxi fare equality after disabled Leeds man quoted price ‘10-times higher than usual’

A taxi and private hire drivers’ group has condemned claims that a disabled Leeds man was quoted 10-times more than usual for a 5.6 mile trip.

Javaid Akhtar, branch secretary for the Yorkshire Professional Drivers’ Association at the GMB union, said he was “gobsmacked” by prices put to 18-year-old disability campaigner Nathan Popple.

Mr Popple, who has severe disabilities due to cerebral palsy, claims to have been quoted £108 for a one-way journey in a wheelchair accessible car from his Adel home to Armley.

He was quoted £60 for the same journey as a return trip by another firm and £30 by another, although those companies offered either limited times or refused advanced bookings.

In a complaint to operators, MPs and Leeds City Council, the Accessible Leeds founder also highlighted instances of drivers refusing to stop for disabled people, not stating collection times or overcharging.Mr Akhtar believes that drivers and companies “should know better” than to discriminate and called for equality.

Javaid Akhtar is branch secretary of the Yorkshire Professional Drivers’ Association at the GMB union. “£108 is absolutely silly. For 5.6 miles it should be £8 or £9 – if an able bodied person is paying that why should we treat disabled people any different?

We should treat them on an equal basis,” he said. “Something needs to be done to educate the licence holders and try to bring it to their attention.“

We should respect all human kind and treat people with dignity and respect.”

Mohammed Shabir, from Unite’s Leeds taxi section, said Hackney carriage drivers all undergo equality training and help people in wheelchairs.

He said: “We are not all like that [not stopping for disabled people] – if we were we wouldn’t be granted our licences.”

Leeds City Council can revoke private hire licences if complaints are proven.

Hackney carriage drivers must also abide by the Equality Act 2010 or face possible prosecution.A council spokeswoman said it was “concerned” by the allegations and plans to investigate them fully. The council has no control over private hire fares.

Read more at: http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/

Sep 14

‘Sadiq Khan is discriminating against our drivers’

Uber has called again on its customers to complain en masse to London mayor Sadiq Khan over a package of reforms affecting the taxi sector.

The San Francisco-based ride-hailing app developer has even gone as far as branding the plans “discriminatory” and particularly harmful for its many drivers born outside the UK, reports The Guardian.

Khan has outlined a series of policy measures, including £65m in grants for black cab drivers who replace older cars with less polluting vehicles.

The plans will also mean that by 2020 there will be 20 new taxi ranks and that from this year black cabs will have new rights to drive in an additional 20 bus lanes.

Khan also confirmed he will go ahead with proposals to introduce onerous English language tests for minicab drivers, including a written exam. These are currently the subject of a legal challenge by Uber.

Tom Elvidge, general manager of Uber in London, said: “While black cabs will get £65m from the taxpayer, the Mayor is piling extra costs and red tape onto licensed private hire drivers.

“This plan will cost drivers who use Uber hundreds of pounds and thousands may lose their livelihoods as a result. Fewer drivers will mean longer waiting times for passengers.”

Elvidge added: “Many drivers who use Uber are immigrants. They work hard to look after themselves and their families. Driving has given them an opportunity to integrate into their local community.

“The mayor should be supporting these drivers, not penalising them.”

Khan said: “Our new taxi and private-hire action plan will help us deliver a truly world-class service for Londoners and create a vibrant taxi and private-hire market where all providers can continue to flourish.

“From my first day at City Hall I have been determined to drive up standards and improve safety for every passenger in London, while protecting the future of our iconic black cabs that provide a unique and invaluable service for Londoners.”

source: http://www.theweek.co.uk/

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