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.

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/

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/

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/

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/

‘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/

Minicab Driver caught speeding and jumping red lights at Gatwick claimed non-existent man was at fault

A minicab driver who lied about speeding and driving through red lights repeatedly near Gatwick Airport over six years by claiming it was a man supposedly living in Cyprus who was at fault, has escaped jail.

Erkan Mustafa committed driving offences around Gatwick on several occasions between 2009 and 2015.

At the time he was running a private hire and chauffeur business called Merc Transfers.

On each occasion, Mustafa falsely nominated a man who supposedly lived in Cyprus as the driver but when police investigated they could find no evidence of this man ever existing.

Mustafa was subsequently charged with committing a series of acts with intent to pervert the course of justice.

The 62-year-old, of Wolverton Gardens, in Horley, Surrey, pleaded guilty at Lewes Crown Court on July 8 and was sentenced to 35 weeks in prison, suspended for two years.

He was also ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work and pay £670 costs.

Sussex Police have only published the results of the investigation and court case this week.

As a result of Mustafa’s conviction, police are urging all licensed drivers in the county to be honest about camera offences to avoid a criminal record.

In the majority of cases, motorists caught by safety cameras are eligible for either a National Speed Awareness Course or national What’s Driving Us course – currently four hours long at a cost of £85 in Sussex.

Those not eligible or who choose not to attend a course end up either with a fixed penalty of £100 and three penalty points or going to magistrates’ court.

Paul Gray, of the Sussex Police Central Ticket Summons Unit (CTSU), said: “The level of information involved in incidents of perverting the course of justice can vary greatly from slight to in-depth, but in all cases is premeditated; Sussex Police has no desire to prosecute people who make genuine mistakes.

“However, drivers should be mindful that we will investigate these offences and prosecute where necessary. If you are prepared to lie to us, then prepare to be caught out and face the consequences.”

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

Commons Questions

Department for Transport written question – answered on 12th September 2016.

Sarah Champion Shadow Minister (Home Office)
To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, when he plans to lay guidance on licensing functions under taxi and private hire vehicle legislation before Parliament.
Andrew Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 
The Department is currently updating the existing guidance on local authority licensing functions for taxi and private hire vehicles. We will consult on a draft once the Policing and Crime Bill, which provides a new power for statutory guidance, has received Royal Assent.

Trafford Council secures private hire prosecution after ‘sting’ operation at Manchester United game

A PRIVATE hire driver has been convicted of licensing and insurance offences after an undercover operation at a Manchester United match by Trafford Council.

At Manchester and Salford Magistrates Court on September 2, Trafford Council secured a conviction against Mohammed Amin Eid Al-Kharabsheh, a private hire driver licensed by Manchester City Council.

He was found guilty of three offences – picking up a fare without a booking, driving without insurance and failing to wear his driver’s badge.

The prosecution resulted from an undercover enforcement operation by Trafford Council staff.

Kharabsheh was fined £300 and given six penalty points, ordered to pay £300 costs and a victim surcharge of £30.

He was one of a number of private hire drivers caught out by checks conducted at Manchester United’s first home game of last season.

He offered to take the two council enforcement staff, who were posing as customers, to Piccadilly station for £25. The checks on that day were part of a series of on-going operations, mounted in response to the problem of illegal plying for hire on match days.

Executive member for economic growth, environment and infrastructure, Cllr John Reilly, said: “Trafford Council will continue to take action against those who flout laws which are there to protect public safety and in doing this, support those who trade legitimately.

“Within the Trafford area only Trafford licensed hackney carriages can be hailed on the street without a booking. By making illegal pick-ups in this way, private hire drivers invalidate their insurance, put customers at risk and face prosecution and possible loss of their licence.”

Anyone wanting to report concerns they have about private hire drivers should email licensing@trafford.gov.uk

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

‘My daughter has been let down and used as a political football’

The mum of a primary school girl whose alleged sex abuse started a taxi licensing investigation at South Ribble Council has spoken out for the first time.

The girl – who cannot be identified for legal reasons – was mentioned in an interim report into the scandal, leaked to the press in April.

The driver accused of abusing her was allowed to keep his private hire badge for 10 months while on bail. The case was not brought to court because of the girl’s age, but the driver has since had all of his taxi licences revoked.

A fact-finding mission after concerns were raised lead to the uncovering of a number of serious failings in the department, with two licensing officers being suspended. Now the monitoring officer who instigated the investigation has also been suspended.

The girl’s mum believes the case has been used as a “political football”.

She said: “Since the story broke it’s been repeated in the press. There’s talk about the council leader, leader of the opposition, Paul Foster, and all these councillors calling for others to resign.

My daughter’s case is being used as a bat and ball – all blaming each other whilst I’ve not even had an apology.

”She added: “I feel like I’ve been let down by every single agency. I’ve had nothing from the council. And everyone I’ve been dealing with has been suspended or has resigned.”

When the news of the secret report came to public attention, the mum said it brought back details of the case she had tried to move on from, and for which her daughter has had therapy.

The mum said: “I thought that when he had his badges revoked I had a little bit of closure. But when I went in newsagents it was all over the papers, when it was on ITV I had 15 texts in a minute, and I couldn’t have the radio on in the car because I didn’t want my daughter hearing it.”

She also claims she has been let down by councillors who promised she would be involved in a scrutiny review into the department problems.

She said: “The councillors all said I would be part of the scrutiny review and they would contact me, but I’ve never heard. I emailed in and had no reply. I feel like they’re trying to keep me out of it.”

Seema Kennedy, MP for South Ribble said: “I immediately wrote to the council to raise the matter and shared her concerns with the police. I am sorry she is disappointed that the process is going slowly but I have made representations on her behalf and await responses.”

Interim leader of the council, Coun Colin Clark, said: “The council takes any allegation relating to the conduct of a licensed taxi driver extremely seriously.

“That is why, as soon as concerns were raised about our Licensing Service, we acted swiftly and commissioned an external report by an independent firm of solicitors. We have implemented all of its recommendations and have checked and double-checked the licence of every single taxi driver licensed by South Ribble Borough Council.

“To ensure that no stone is left unturned, a special task group from our Scrutiny Committee is also undertaking a full review of how the council has handled the investigation. This will allow us to learn valuable lessons for the future. The findings of this thorough review will be made available to the public in full.”

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

 

South Ribble Borough Council ‘failure’ over taxi child sex claims

The report follows claims children were sexually exploited by taxi drivers in South Ribble

A review of how an investigation into taxi licensing was handled by a council in Lancashire has found “a major corporate governance failure”.

The draft report accuses South Ribble Borough Council of showing a “lack of regard” for safeguarding policies.

It follows claims children were sexually exploited by taxi drivers in the borough.

The report includes interviews with some councillors and officers involved in handling the complaints.

They include the council’s monitoring officer Ian Parker who described being “spooked” when various safeguarding problems were uncovered.

He admitted the council “let down” a vulnerable 16-year-old girl who was inappropriately spoken to by a taxi driver, and claimed he felt “out of his depth”.

The report details how the taxi driver told the girl he could legally have sex with her because it was her 16th birthday.

But councillor Warren Bennett, who was a cabinet member at the time, said nobody on the committee had thought the incident was a problem when the driver’s licence came up for renewal.

According to another interview on the same topic, the girl reported the problem to a school teacher who contacted Lancashire County Council, which then removed the culprit from its list of approved drivers.

South Ribble Council, however, were not informed of the move and the man continued to drive taxis in the borough.

The report also found members of the council broke its constitution on several occasions, and asked why the former leader Margaret Smith and Chief Executive Mike Nuttall – who have both since resigned – were excluded from the investigation.

Compiled by a group of councillors, it also asked why cabinet meetings were arranged behind closed doors, with no formal record of decisions being made.

The report will be discussed by the council’s scrutiny committee next week.

If accepted, the group will recommend action which could include referring staff members involved to the council’s standards committee.

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