There are many reasons to visit Rossendale. There’s the walking. The cycling. The steam railway. The Whitaker. And, it would seem, Rossendale appears to be a great place to register to be a taxi driver.
I’m not sure why, but I do know that it’s costing the council money to keep an eye on taxi drivers registered in Rossendale but working away from the area.
Rossendale has 1,200 licensed hackney carriages in total, for its population of 65,000.
In contrast, Bradford has just 222 hackney carriages, for a population of more than 500,000.
And that’s bothering people in Bradford, who can’t understand why drivers there come here to get their licence.
And there in lies a peculiar problem. Rossendale appears to be a popular place to come and get a taxi licence, but then go and work in lots of other places.
There’s nothing illegal about this as licensing legislation means that any council in the country can issue a taxi licence which can then be used anywhere in the country for pre-booked work.
It’s all a little odd.
Rossendale council’s licensing sub-committee meets remarkably regularly to deal with applications to become taxi drivers.
Members of the public don’t get to see what happens because it has to be dealt with in private.
Rossendale council then has an obligation to make sure it monitors those taxis – and that’s becoming an expensive business.
When councillors in Keighley, Yorkshire, kicked off at the number of Rossendale taxis working in their area, Rossendale council defended itself by insisting it did carry out lots of checks outside of Rossendale, including Keighley, Manchester and Bradford.
Such enforcement doesn’t come cheap – so I don’t have much sympathy for those taxi drivers protesting outside of Rossendale council last week over various licensing changes the council is proposing, including the introduction of an assumption that if you want a Rossendale taxi licence, you’ll be expected to work primarily in Rossendale too.
The council move follows criticism from a number of areas, including Rochdale, which earlier this year when Rochdale council claimed its efforts to improve standards among taxi drivers – including raising awareness of potential child exploitation – were being undermined because Rossendale had ‘lower standards’ when it came to approving taxi drivers, a claim denied by Rossendale council.
And now the police and crime commissioner for Lancashire, Clive Grunshaw, has raised the issue of out-of-area taxi driving with Rossendale after he received complaints about it from Leeds when Rossendale taxi drivers ‘causing all sorts of problems there.’
Indeed, the issue was raised in Parliament way back in 2014 by a Bolton MP who posed the question: “Why do people go to Rossendale to get a taxi licence?”
There wasn’t an answer forthcoming, although some have suggested a taxi licence is cheaper to get here than in many other areas.
When times are tough, as they are now, a council’s duty has to be to the people it is there to serve, not people who want to get the taxi version of a ship’s flag of convenience.
Rossendale doesn’t need 1,200 taxis.
Threats to hold strikes if the council doesn’t listen to the cabbies will hopefully fall on deaf ears – if most of those cabbies are working outside the area, we won’t notice anyway.
Quite why Rossendale is such a hot spot for cabbies is a mystery – but it’s one the council needs to solve quickly.
As the NTA wrote back in 2012; –
Mrs. Helen Lockwood
Rossendale Borough Council
Town Centre Offices
10th April 2012
Dear Mrs. Lockwood
Re: Rossendale Hackney Carriages used exclusively in Manchester
I write on behalf of our members in Manchester in respect of vehicles licensed by your authority which are used solely by private hire firms within Manchester, for hiring’s within Manchester. I duly attach photographs of the offending vehicles, as supplied by our members.
As you will appreciate, the licensing function local authorities are mandated to provide is an arduous task, not only must officers deal with Hackney Carriage and private hire licensing matters, they must also deal with a plethora of other licensing functions.
However, it is the Hackney Carriage and private hire function our members wish me to bring to your attention.
In this respect I wish to alert you to the phenomenon of Hackney Carriages Proprietors and Drivers licensing themselves in one area, only to work exclusively in another. As you may imagine this creates all manner of difficulties and issues from a licensing perspective. In the past 12 to 18 months this issue has been considered by both the House of Commons Transport Select Committee and it’s currently being addressed by the Law Commission, who are looking at widespread reform of the taxi and private hire industries.
The issue of ‘cross border’ Hackney Carriages was addressed in 2008 with a Judicial review commonly known as the ‘Berwick case’ – Newcastle City Council, R (on the application of) v Berwick-Upon-Tweed Borough Council & Ors  EWHC 2369 (Admin) (05 November 2008).
A brief synopsis was that vehicles licensed by Berwick Borough Council were being used effectively as ‘private hire vehicles’ by operators in and around Newcastle upon Tyne – some considerable distance away from the vehicles own licensing area. It was argued that Newcastle City Council were unable to stop and check these vehicles whilst they were working within Newcastle as they were not Newcastle licensed vehicles. In addition to this – the licensing conditions in Berwick were very different to those of Newcastle.
Berwick Council suggested they were unable to refuse applications.
In summing up the case the judge stated at 34:
“However it would seem to me to be difficult for any local authority to justify exercising their discretion by granting a hackney carriage licence to an applicant when the authority knows that the applicant has no intention of using that licence to ply for hire in its area. This is particularly so when the local authority also knows that the intention is to use the hackney carriage in an area remote from that authority’s area. I say that because it seems to me it is very difficult to exercise proper control over hackney carriages which are never, or rarely, used in the prescribed area. It is also undesirable for authorities to be faced with a proliferation of hackney carriages licensed outside the area in which they are being used and therefore not subject to the same conditions and byelaws as apply to those vehicles licensed in the area.”
At 35 the judge stated:
“I have had placed before me in evidence a considerable amount of detail of where the hackney carriages licensed by Berwick are in use. This is without using the powers that exists under section 57 of the 1976 Act to require information. Thus it seems to me it will not be an unduly difficult task to discover whether an applicant for a licence has the intention of plying for hire within Berwick’s area.
However that must be a matter for Berwick. It may be they will wish to seek certain information to assist them using section 57. I consider that it would be perfectly proper to seek such information to ensure that Berwick’s hackney carriages are intended to be used in their area and thus any enforcement powers can be exercised locally. It is to be noted that section 57 (3) makes it an offence to knowingly or recklessly make a false statement. This is quite apart from the fact that an applicant who does not act honestly towards the issuer of a licence may well not be a fit and proper person and may well have his or her licence revoked or not renewed. I do not believe there is any reason to believe that applicants will not continue to provide information, whether through filling out an application form or more specifically under section 57, in an honest and straightforward manner.”
And at 37 the judge advised:
“It may well be that up to now local authorities have not sought information as to the intentions of licence applicants. This may be because until recently it has not been an issue. It may be that following this judgment it will no longer be an issue. However the fact that it has not generally been done up to now is no reason in my view why such information cannot be sought in the future.”
Members are obviously concerned these vehicles may not be subject to the same checks and balances as locally licensed vehicles.
As you will appreciate, the licensing policy developed in Rossendale is intended for the good people of Rossendale, it is inherently different to the one developed within Manchester. It is not the place of either my members or myself to suggest what conditions you should have in place for taxi and private-hire licensees within your area – we firmly believe this function is one best developed by locals.
For example – a local authority may (for their own reasons) develop an emissions policy for the vehicles they license, such policies are obviously to the benefit of local residents – yet if a policy such as this can be easily circumvented by vehicles simply licensing themselves in another area – then such a policy would be ineffective to its overall well intended aim.
Indeed, a local authority may wish – due to customer complaints or suchlike – implement a topographical knowledge test or similar for licensees. Again, if this admirable policy, which would benefit a great number of taxi and private hire users, can be easily bypassed by merely obtaining a license in another area, it effectively lessens the effect of a very worthwhile goal.
Recently it has emerged that many motor insurers simply ask where a ‘taxi’ is licensed in the belief this is the area where the taxi is worked – the insurance premium is based upon this area, which maybe an area where insurance is classed as a lower risk. We have been advised by contacts within the motor insurance industry they would consider this type of activity fraudulent and it would be unacceptable to some insurance companies.
Going through the Judges comments in the ‘Berwick case’, it is clear he appreciated how difficult it would be for a local authority to exercise proper control over its licensees if the vehicles and drivers, operate – effectively free from regulation – remotely from their area of license. As an immediate example – perhaps you could advise if Rossendale Council has dispatched its officers to Manchester to check licenses and vehicles?
In addition to the above, if a passenger hires a Rossendale licensed vehicle from a private hire company in Manchester and there is a subsequent complaint – who does the passenger complain to? The passenger will very probably and understandably believe they have hired a Manchester licensed vehicle and will have very little idea of the vagaries of taxi licensing.
The judge in the case did offer a relatively inexpensive and simple solution to the issue of vehicles from one area working in another and it comes in the guise of a simple question which should be added to the application form. The judge summed this up at 59:
“Following the handing down of my judgment in draft I heard Counsel on the appropriate form of relief that I should grant. In my judgment the appropriate relief, and the relief that I therefore grant, is by declaration as follows:
(i) In the proper exercise of its statutory discretion under section 37 of the Town Police Clauses Act 1847 a licensing authority is obliged to have regard (a) to whether the applicant intends that the hackney carriage if licensed will be used to ply for hire within the area of that authority, and (b) whether the applicant intends that the hackney carriage will be used (either entirely or predominantly) for private hire remotely from the area of that authority.
(ii) A licensing authority may in the proper exercise of its discretion under the said section 37 refuse to grant a licence in respect of a hackney carriage that is not intended to be used to ply for hire within its area and/or is intended to be used (either entirely or predominantly) for private hire remotely from the area of that authority.
(iii) In determining whether to grant a licence under the said section 37 a licensing authority may
require an applicant to submit information pursuant to section 57 Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 in order to ascertain the intended usage of the vehicle.”
If a person makes a false representation in order to obtain a license, section 57 (3) this makes it an offence.
I attach an application form from Northumberland council where the question regarding section 57 is asked, our association understand similar questions are being attached to licenses in other parts of the country.
We urge you to speak with your licensing department in respect of this letter and the obvious issues raised.