Child protection campaigners hit out at councils for high number of taxi and private hire licences

The Windsor & Eton Express reports that Child protection campaigners have slammed Slough Borough Council (SBC) and the Royal Borough for issuing an ‘unusually large’ 2,500 taxi and private hire licences.

The Express can reveal Slough Borough Council, with a population of 122,000, has 901 licensed drivers.

The Royal Borough, with a population of 147,000, has issued a whopping 1,600 licences to drivers.

Together, the two boroughs have a total of 2,501 licences for a population of 269,000.

By comparison, the six councils in Lancashire (Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, Hyndburn, Ribble Valley, Chorley and Pendle) have issued just 2,309 licences for a population of more than 700,000.

The Royal Borough has revoked two licences due to inappropriate behaviour with children in the past year. SBC has also revoked two licences due to links to adult sexual offences.

None of the drivers with revoked licences have yet received a criminal conviction; two are currently under police investigation.

Now campaigners have criticised the councils for the number of licences issued.

They worry that a lack of safeguarding training is putting young people, particularly children in care who are often transported in taxis, at risk.

Founder of women’s charity Jeena International, Rani Bilkhu, said taxis had been linked to child sexual exploitation (CSE) and there was something ‘seriously wrong’ with both councils.

“More needs to be done and we need to see not only tighter rules on who can get a licence and more training, we need to see convictions being made,” she said.

“People have no confidence in the council or the police force because if they complain nothing happens. A licence may be revoked occasionally but these people rarely end up in court.”

Richard Stokes, former leader of Slough Borough Council and child protection campaigner, said: “It is difficult to envisage over 900 vehicles operating for hire in Slough, which prompts the question – where are they all and what are they doing?”

SBC was supposed to roll out a mandatory safeguarding training programme for all of its licensed drivers in January but this has still not been introduced. The council says the programme is now likely to begin in April.

The Royal Borough is ‘working on’ a training programme for drivers, but has set no firm start date.

A Royal Borough spokesman said in a statement it was committed to protecting children and young people from the risk of CSE.

It added: “The council does not have the right to restrict the number of taxi and private hire drivers in the area. However, we ensure all of our applicants are ‘fit and proper’ as required by legislation.”

SBC said: “The council works very closely with the taxi and private hire operators and their drivers to raise awareness about how to protect young people from CSE and encourage the reporting of suspicious behaviour.”

It added it has already issued stickers to taxi drivers to display in their vehicles highlighting what to do if someone suspects an incident of CSE.