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.”