Oxford City Council fears over legal loophole with taxi licensing that could open door for child abuse

A LOOPHOLE allowing taxi drivers from other areas to work in Oxford could be closed as part of moves to protect young people.

Concern is growing about national rules that allow drivers licensed in one area to operate anywhere, regardless of differences in standards.

Officials say it allows hackney carriage drivers to avoid tougher standards in Oxford by getting credentials elsewhere and then working in the city for private hire firms.

Last year Oxford City Council estimated there were about 300 Hackney Carriages not licensed by it operating in the city, mainly on Friday and Saturday nights.

But now an influential committee of MPs has called on the Government to close the loophole.

Their comments come after a review of efforts to tackle child exploitation in Oxfordshire – carried out in the wake of the Bullfinch child sexual abuse investigation – warned the loophole made it harder to keep children safe because the authority that issues the licence is responsible for enforcement.

Colin Cook, vice-chairman of the city council’s licensing committee, said: “At the moment, it is in theory possible for someone to get a hackney carriage licence in the worst enforcement authority in the country, wherever that is, and still come and work in Oxford.

“We do what we can to make sure most are licensed here by us, but there is an increasing minority now coming from elsewhere and it can become more problematic when you are having to rely on them taking enforcement action.”

The Communities and Local Government Committee’s call was part of a review of the situation in Rotherham, which was at the centre of a child sexual abuse scandal, where measures to introduce CCTV were being “undermined” by neighbouring areas that do not require it.

The committee said: “We believe local authorities must be able to apply particular measures in relation to taxi licensing in their areas, such as requiring taxis to have CCTV installed, without those measures being undermined by taxis coming in from other areas.”

In Oxford, the city council has previously complained that higher standards in the city were being undermined by neighbouring authorities, including training in safeguarding. They have been working towards joint enforcement agreements but have yet to reach a deal.

But Mark Green, director of 001 Taxis in Oxford, said his firm needed to use drivers from “across Oxfordshire” because it operated over the whole county.

He added: “If councils wants to do more about these issues, they should raise standards together. We have an operator’s license for every area and have no problem taking people on across Oxfordshire.

“The fees outside Oxford are cheaper for drivers but they still have to do the same DBS (disclosure and barring service) checks, so it is not a safeguarding issue.”

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