Rotherham Council regains powers to grant taxi licences after ban in wake of child sex scandal

Licensing powers are the latest to be handed back to the council after a period of reform following damning reports which found that the local authority and South Yorkshire Police had turned a blind eye to men of predominantly Pakistani heritage abusing 1,400 vulnerable girls over a 16-year period.

The council’s licensing powers cover driving and operations licences for hackney carriage and private hire taxis, as well as alcohol licences.

Professor Alexis Jay’s report into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham, published in 2014, found that some taxi drivers had played a ‘prominent role’ in the offending.

A follow up inquiry, by Louise Casey, said there was a ‘well-publicised link between taxis and child sexual exploitation in Rotherham that has cast a long shadow over the vast majority of law-abiding drivers’.

In a ministerial statement yesterday, Local Government Minister, Marcus Jones, said: “This marks significant progress, as licensing was one of the council’s services implicated by the Casey report as contributing to child sexual exploitation in Rotherham.

“I am now satisfied that the council could exercise the licensing function in compliance with its best value duty and I am consulting on revising directions accordingly.

“The most recent reports by commissioners appointed to oversee services in Rotherham had found that licensing services were now ready to return to council control, Mr Jones said.

He added: “The collective evidence demonstrates that the key objectives of the intervention, in relation to licensing, have been delivered.

“It is my assessment that the weaknesses in licensing identified in the Casey report have been addressed and the service is now functioning effectively.

“Officers and members have recognised the need for and implemented fundamental cultural change, and advisory board members, in particular the chair, are more capable and confident in their role.

“Commissioners will continue to have oversight of the service, Mr Jones added. Education, housing and planning functions were returned to the council in February.

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

South Tyneside Council bosses asked to close taxi licence loopholes after incidents

Council bosses in South Tyneside are being asked to close loopholes in taxi licensing laws.

They will be told next week that a man who drove his car through a barrier to confront council staff after they twice refused to give him a taxi licence now has permission to drive minibuses.

David Cramond Another driver who had his licence taxi revoked after he used booking records to inappropriately contact two women is allowed to drive larger vehicles for the same firm.

Both cases are evidence of a discrepancy in licensing laws, a report claims. In a report to South Tyneside Council’s licensing committee, the authority’s economic regeneration director David Cramond said the system for issuing licences to taxi drivers – hackney carriages of up to eight-seats – is different to that for drivers of nine-to-16-seat vehicles known as Public Carriage Vehicles (PCVs).

He said to get a hackney carriage licence, drivers must produce an up to date criminal records check and can be refused a licence if they have convictions or cautions which the authority believe “renders the driver a risk to the public”.

But PCV drivers, Mr Cramond says are subject to such checks.

He said: “The applicant is asked to sign a self-declaration and, if they declare that they have no previous convictions, a licence will be granted with no further checks.” His report cited a driver who got a PCV licence and applied to drive school children despite a North East council revoking his taxi licence in 2014 after he was convicted of harassment and was accused of harassing and having inappropriate conduct with a child.

Mr Cramond said: “It is important to point out that the majority of PCV drivers are likely to fit into the category of ‘fit and proper’. “This report is intended to highlight concerns surrounding an opportunity available to unscrupulous persons wishing to exploit an opportunity which enables them to work in close proximity to the general public some of who will be vulnerable.”

Mr Cramond added: “The North East strategic licensing group which represents the 12 licensing authorities in the North East believes that this is an outdated view which no longer reflects reality.

“Larger minibuses, driven by PCV drivers, are now regularly hired out by taxi companies and are often used to transport groups, or individuals, in exactly the same way as a taxi. “Even when transporting a group of passengers, it would be common for a lone individual to be picked up first or dropped off last.

“It is essential that the public receive the same level of protection regardless of whether they are using an eight-seater taxi or a nine or more seat minibus.

”The council’s licensing committee will discuss the report at their meeting next Friday.

Read more at: http://www.shieldsgazette.com/

‘Where to Guv, Raqqa?’ UK taxi drivers get Prevent training

Middle East Eye reports that taxi drivers in the UK are being trained to become the “eyes and ears” of local authorities and police in the hunt for potential terrorists as part of safeguarding schemes being rolled out across the country.

Drivers in several British towns and cities are receiving Prevent counter-terrorism training as part of mandatory “knowledge” tests introduced by local councils.

One flagship scheme, run by Calderdale Council in West Yorkshire, northern England, was considered so successful that councillors discussed extending it to staff working in takeaway food outlets and bars.

Manchester City Council also incorporated Prevent awareness into a safeguarding handbook issued to taxi drivers last year, while Dartford Borough Council in Kent is among the latest to introduce Prevent training as part of its safeguarding requirements for taxi drivers.

But taxi industry organisations and trade unions have raised concerns about the training which they say is being introduced in a piecemeal and inconsistent way across the country and risks creating an “air of suspicion” within communities.

Critics of Prevent also questioned the legality of the training and accused the Government of seeking to turn the UK into a “counter-terrorism state” in which citizens were expected to spy on each other.

“This is just one more proof, in a long line of evidence, that Prevent is a legalised, UK-wide spying exercise,” Abed Choudary, of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, told Middle East Eye.

Opponents of the Prevent scheme say it is based on flawed theories about the radicalisation process. Its advocates argue that it is primarily concerned with safeguarding those who are vulnerable to being drawn into extremism. At least 550,000 public-sector workers, including teachers and doctors have received training in spotting signs of radicalisation, according to the Home Office.

Calderdale’s taxi driver training scheme was highlighted in a document produced by the Local Government Association in December 2015 entitled “Councils’ role in preventing extremism”.

The document was produced in response to the introduction of the Prevent Duty last year which required public bodies including local councils and individual public-sector employees to demonstrate “due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”.

It describes how Calderdale had provided Prevent and other safeguarding training covering issues such as child sex exploitation and domestic abuse to 1,000 licensed taxi drivers in four-hour sessions over the space of three months.

“Taxi drivers have a unique reach into society. Ferrying passengers around, they get to see and hear things that the statutory agencies never could,” it says.

The training has also been made mandatory for new drivers applying for a taxi licence while existing licence-holders are required to complete the course every three years.

“Taxi drivers can play a really important role. They can be our eyes and ears. It is about helping them to understand when they may need to act,” said Jo Richmond, the council’s neighbourhoods and cohesion manager.

Richmond is due to talk about the scheme at a conference on “Tackling Radicalisation and Promoting Community Integration” aimed at public sector workers in November.

According to the LGA document, feedback from taxi drivers on the sessions was “extremely positive”. “It made me realise it’s not all about driving,” one driver was quoted as saying.

But when MEE approached taxi drivers in Halifax for comment, none were willing to speak about the scheme.

“They are just worried. They do it because it is going to earn them a living,” a local source told MEE after speaking to drivers in the town.

At a council meeting in October 2015, councillor Steve Sweeney said that several other councils were looking to follow a similar approach.

At a previous meeting of the council’s communities scrutiny panel, councillors had asked police whether the taxi driver training could be extended to “other people providing services such as takeaways and bars,” according to council minutes.

Calderdale, which covers the town of Halifax and surrounding areas, was made a Prevent priority area – one of 30 in the country – by the Home Office in 2015, meaning it receives funds both for a local Prevent coordinator and for projects run in conjunction with local communities and partners. Just over seven percent of the area’s 200,000 population identified themselves as Muslims at the last census in 2011.

Takeaways and bars

At the communities scrutiny panel meeting in September 2015, police officers told councillors that they spent more time working on far right threats than any other.

A report on the implementation of Prevent to the same panel in March 2015 highlighted the presence of an English Defence League (EDL) branch in the town and said that anti-Islamic and anti-Semitic hate incidents had been reported in the past 12 months.

But it also noted, as pertinent in the local context, that: “There continues to be empathy for the plight of individuals in Syria and Palestine and local charity collections/events continue to take place.”

Calderdale’s safeguarding training was implemented by West Yorkshire Police and an external trainer, Nadeem Mir, a former police chief inspector in Greater Manchester where he implemented a similar scheme.

In August 2015, Manchester City Council  issued a safeguarding handbook to 6,000 taxi drivers which contained a section on terrorism and extremism.

“The handbook has been developed to raise awareness about reporting crime and is an opportunity to encourage drivers who are the eyes and ears of our community to report intelligence and any suspicious activity to police,” said Chief Inspector Laura Marler of Greater Manchester Police.

The handbook tells taxi drivers that they should trust their instincts in reporting anything that they believe to be suspicious.

A case study describes a teenage girl on the way to the airport speaking on the phone to someone who she says she will meet her that night on the border of Syria. Another described a mobile phone left in the back of a taxi with a Nazi symbol as a screensaver.

“Preventing terrorism is challenging because it operates in a pre-criminal space before any criminal activity has taken place. It is about supporting and protecting people who might be susceptible to radicalisation, ensuring that they are diverted away before any crime is committed,” it says.

“The nature of your job means you are in contact with people all day long and in some cases for long periods of time. You will know instinctively when someone is acting suspiciously or if something is out of the norm.”

A spokesperson for Manchester City Council confirmed that the contents of the handbook were included in safeguarding tests for taxi licence applicants.

In Dartford, councillors in June agreed to introduce Prevent training as part of the “knowledge test” for taxi license applicants. A star-rated “Better Cab” accreditation scheme was introduced in which to acquire the maximum three-star rating drivers were required “to undertake and pass Council’s Prevent Training”.

A safeguarding advice document for drivers advises them to “take note of odd or unusual behaviour by tenants or guests at a property – terrorists need somewhere to live”.

Tougher licensing rules and mandatory safeguarding training for drivers have been introduced by many councils since a 2014 report into child sex abuse in the Yorkshire town of Rotherham concluded that taxi drivers had played a prominent role in the exploitation of hundreds of children over almost two decades.

In Calderdale, 17 men were convicted in June of systematically grooming and sexually abusing teenage girls in Halifax over a number of years.

Representatives of taxi driver trade organisations told MEE that safeguarding schemes were becoming more common, but questioned the inconsistent way in which they were being implemented and the expectation that drivers should monitor their customers.

‘At the end of the day we are only driving cabs’

“Not only have we got to spot potential sex offenders, now we have got to spot terrorists. There are all kinds of courses and schemes that taxi drivers have to take on and they just seem to be getting imposed. At the end of the day we are only driving cabs,” said Wayne Casey of the National Taxi Association.

Casey alos said that trade organisations and unions representing taxi drivers had not been consulted in developing appropriate courses.

Charles Oakes of the Bolton-based Hackney Drivers Association also said it was questionable whether safeguarding training would make any difference.

“It is basically just telling drivers what to look for. Usually these training sessions finish well within an hour,” he said.

“Taxi drivers are expected to be doctors, social workers, all sorts of things that this trade has never needed. I just wonder at times whether the councils are doing this to make themselves look good.”

Prevent, a strand of the government’s counter-terrorism strategy focused on tackling extremism, faces complaints that it is discriminatory against Muslims and based on flawed theories of radicalisation.

Its advocates argue that it is primarily concerned with safeguarding people vulnerable to being drawn into extremism and has made a positive impact in the lives of thousands of people, but questions have been raised about the quality and consistency of training.

MEE revealed earlier this month that 24 courses deemed unsuitable for a Home Office Prevent training catalogue were still being sold to schools and other public sector institutions.

But the extension of Prevent training to taxi drivers highlights the strategy’s reach in the private sector as well.

A spokesperson for the Unite union, which represents taxi drivers, told MEE: “This move has the potential to create an air of suspicion in communities where we should be building unity. Our members feel deeply uncomfortable with this approach and Unite will be lobbying politicians to rethink this ill thought out strategy.”

Kevin Blowe, the co-ordinator of the Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol), part of the Together Against Prevent activist campaign, said it was questionable whether making the training mandatory was legal.

“I don’t understand how this is lawful, because taxi drivers are neither public bodies nor government contractors,” he told MEE.

“If local councils start demanding that everyone they license must act as Prevent’s ‘eyes and ears,’ then that could spread to include landlord accreditation schemes, food premises, even music venues.

“It’s bending the laws to try and bring more and more people into the army of snoopers.”

Choudary, of the IHRC, said: “The UK has turned into a counter-terrorism state. A state in which the government views people, particularly Muslims, through a security prism and also encourages communities to view one another in the same way. This is the government getting its citizens to spy on one another.”

Middle East Eye sought comment several times from Calderdale Council but a spokesperson said there was nobody available. Dartford Borough Council did not respond to requests for comment.

 

source: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/taxi-drivers-prevent-training-767435376

 

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.

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/

Wolverhampton minicab row: 2,000 more expected to apply to become minicab drivers

Another 2,000 drivers are expected to apply for minicab licences by the end of the year, despite soaring numbers and existing drivers complaining of huge salary losses.

Now angry drivers are threatening strike action against Wolverhampton council.

Earlier this year it was revealed that the number of private hire drivers in the city had shot up from 858 in July last year to 1,323 this year, as drivers from Birmingham and other areas flooded the market and took advantage of restrictions being removed by the local authority.

At the last licensing committee meeting it was revealed the council was expecting to receive ‘in the region of 2,000’ additional applications by the end of this year.

Raheel Shah, from Wolverhampton Private Hire Association, said: “As a union we are not happy. It’s all well and good giving licences out but where are these people going to find the work? There are already too many drivers in Wolverhampton.

“The standards are too low for drivers to get a licence and the people of Wolverhampton are suffering because of it.

“The council do not care about the people, they just care about making money. It’s not fair on the drivers either. How can they deliver the best service if they are so stressed?”

The increase in drivers in the region, which equates to almost 60 per cent compared to last year, could be attributed to restrictions being removed by the city council.

An exam familiarly known in the trade as The Knowledge, which tests drivers’ understanding about the local road map, and a practical skills test, were dropped by the authority in response to government changes in policy. Now a simpler test is done by prospective cabbies.

Mr Shah said: “There is no space for anymore drivers. There must be 1,500 already. A lot of them don’t even know the area because they have come in from elsewhere and are not taking their tests.

“Drivers aren’t required to take the proper tests here, yet in other areas they must. Without the proper knowledge of the roads in Wolverhampton, the customers are going to get a rubbish service.

“As a union we are against any more drivers being taken on. We may have to consider a strike against the council.”

Councillor Alan Bolshaw, chair of the council’s licensing committee, said: “There may be a lot of applicants but I’d imagine only a handful will be granted licences.

“I can understand drivers might be alarmed. Under the new laws, people can apply for taxi licences from anywhere in the country. But only a handful will be working in Wolverhampton.”

Read more at http://www.expressandstar.com/

Tourism Action Plan

Policy paper

Tourism Action Plan

From: Department for Culture, Media & Sport and Tracey Crouch MP

First published: 26 August 2016

Part of: Tourism

This report outlines how the government will be supporting the tourism industry and ensuring the benefits of tourism will be felt across the United Kingdom

 

Link to plan document

 

Page 9

Commonsense Regulation

Working in partnership with the Tourism Industry Council, we have identified four areas of regulation where progress can be made to allow tourism businesses to flourish:

• We will seek to deregulate an element of Private Hire Vehicle (PHV) licences as soon as parliamentary time allows. This will allow owners of hotels/ attractions to collect visitors from train stations/ ports of entry, without having to apply for PHV licences (operator, vehicle and driver).

Uber just renewed its feud with London’s regulators

City AM reports that Uber is again turning to its customers to help it fight “bureaucratic” new rules imposed by Transport for London, including an English exam “harder than the test for British citizenship”, renewing its feud with regulators in the capital.

The billion-dollar company said the rules would “threaten the livelihood of thousands of drivers”, reducing their numbers and thus increasing the waiting times for users in an email directly appealing to customers and authored by Uber’s top boss in London, Tom Elvidge.

The new rules were given the greenlight by TfL in March following a long-running and public battle between the two sides and London’s black cab drivers.

At the time, Uber welcomed the result of TfL’s review after it dropped proposals that would enforce users to wait five-minutes after ordering a cab, even if there was a car available instantly.

Now, Uber is urging customers to email the newly elected Mayor of London Sadiq Khan to demand the rules – formulated after a comprehensive consultation conducted by TfL under the former Mayor Boris Johnson – are looked at afresh.

It’s understood that while the broad conclusions of the review are accepted, the finer details and exact form the rules will take, hammered out over the last few months, are more onerous than Uber had been expecting.

Uber has called into question the English language requirement rule – which it claims is harder than the test for British Citizenship and more than the requirements for becoming a Tube driver.

It has also called out a requirement for part-time drivers to have costly full-time commercial insurance even when they’re not driving, as well as the need for Uber to tell TfL of any changes to its app, which it argues would slow down the roll out of new features.

The latter two rules now already apply while the rule on English language tests will come into force from 1 October.

Those who receive the email are asked to click on a link to email the Mayor, leading to an already written reply which even signs a users name at the end automatically.

source: http://www.cityam.com/

 

Comment

Of course, unlike Tube drivers, minicab drivers do have to communicate with passengers, you would naturally assume speaking English in the nation’s capital to a reasonable degree would (and should) be a minimum acceptable standard, especially in an industry where drivers have direct contact with passengers.

The requirement to have full time hire and reward insurance merely brings London in line with the rest of the UK – a licensed vehicle is always a licensed vehicle – this has been the law since the case of Benson v Boyce [HC QBD] 1997.

Barrow taxi drivers banned from wearing hoodies or baseball caps

BARROW taxi drivers have been warned they could be sent home if council officers catch them wearing inappropriate clothes while on duty.

Barrow Borough Council’s licensing department is understood to be planning to enforce rules surrounding professional standards of taxi drivers working across Barrow, Dalton, Askam and Walney.

The Evening Mail understands council officers have confirmed they will begin enforcing a no smoking policy in taxis and a dress code while on duty.

TAXI DRIVERS’ DRESS CODE

Barrow Borough Council’s dress code for taxi drivers states: The Authority is committed to encouraging the professional image of the trade and it considers that drivers should conform to a minimum standard of dress, as set out below, in order to raise and maintain the profile of the licensed trade.

Whilst the Authority does not wish to impose such standards by way of conditions to any licence it expects, however, that such standards will be maintained at all times.

Acceptable Standards of Dress within this code:

Tops, shirts, blouses, T-shirts, or sweat tops should cover the shoulders and be capable of being worn inside trousers or shorts. Shirts or blouses can be worn with a tie or open necked. Trousers/Shorts/Skirts Trousers may be either full length or shorts if tailored. Short skirts should not be worn. Smart jean type trousers permitted.

Footwear

Footwear should fit around the heel of feet.

Examples of Unacceptable Standards of Dress within this code:

Bare chests Unclean or damaged clothing or footwear Clothing with offensive words, logos or graphics Sportswear promoting sports teams Clothing with studs or sharp edges Beach type footwear (e.g. Flip flops and mules) Baseball caps, “hoodies”,or “woolly hats” Tracksuits or shellsuits.

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

‘This is our livelihood’ – unhappy taxi drivers block road outside council’s HQ

TAXI drivers in Rossendale blockaded council offices in response to controversial proposed changes.

Rossendale cabbies were unhappy with new rules being implemented and united to block the road leading to the offices of Rossendale Council at Futures Park from 7.30am yesterday.

Members of the Rossendale Taxi Association have said they are outraged at new rules drivers are being asked to adhere to and have said they have not been consulted.

Glenn Bulcock, 59, group member and former chairman, said: “This is only the start, we’ll block the whole of Rossendale if we’re forced to.

“This is our livelihood and our living.”

The newest council plans include implementing one-colour taxis, an age restriction of 18 months for new taxis, and causing all drivers to take a two and a half hour knowledge test costing £70.

Monday’s protest is the most recent in a dispute after Rossendale Council was accused of approving too many hackney carriage licences last October.

A total of 1,864 drivers had been issued with taxi licences and just two for private hire for a population of 65,000.

This led to drivers acting as mini cabs across the North West and into Yorkshire.

The latest protest was resolved around midday after council officers met with representatives of the areas taxi trade to hear their concerns.

It was agreed that a workshop meeting with Rossendale taxi representatives will be set up to discuss planned changes but the result was not welcomed.

Mr Bulcock said: “I’m not really happy with the outcome, the workshop will just give us another meeting where they will try and force their ideas on us.

“But the support from taxi drivers was absolutely fantastic, we had the whole of Rossendale behind us. More than 300 people turned up.

“We felt we had to demonstrate. They can’t continue to make changes without our input.”

The council was only made aware of the industrial action by the press and said it worked quickly to tackle the issue.

Chairman of the licensing committee Cllr Steve Hughes welcomed the result and was glad when the roads were cleared.

He said: “It is pleasing that this has been resolved quickly their voices will be heard.”

Rossendale Council urged that any future disputes are resolved formally as they look to avoid the disruption of industrial action.

Legal service manager Clair Birtwistle said: “The best way to engage with this process would be to provide a formal response. Those wishing to formally engage with the Council, as the Licensing Authority, can do so online.”

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