Taxi seized and four suspended in Rossendale council inspection operation

Operation Spartacus was carried out by licensing and enforcement inspectors throughout the borough

A taxi has been seized and four others issued with suspension notices after Rossendale Borough Council conducted a taxi enforcement exercise.

During the exercise, 20 licensed hackney carriages were stopped and inspected of which four vehicles were issued with suspension notices for faults such as defective lights, defective windshield, unreported accident damage, bald tyres, damaged seat belts and interiors.

Operation Spartacus was deployed by Rossendale Borough Council’s Licensing and Enforcement Unit and Lancashire Police on Saturday, May 14 throughout the Valley.

One vehicle was in such an appalling condition that Lancashire Police had no alternative but to seize the vehicle.

Council officers also issued nine defect notices for further minor faults such as vehicle cleanliness, minor bodywork damage, absent ‘no smoking’ stickers, meter issues, cluttered boot space, wing mirror damage and shabby paintwork.

Five drivers were found to be operating a hackney carriage while not displaying upon them the hackney carriage drivers badge in such a position and manner as to be plainly visible

Coun Steve Hughes, chairman of Rossendale council’s Licensing Committee, welcomed the work.

He said: “This Operation proved a very successful exercise in identifying and suspending non-compliant drivers. There is no excuse for defective lights, filthy vehicles and illegal tyres.

“Taxi drivers are professional drivers and as such they should be carrying out basic checks before, during and at the end of each shift to ensure passenger safety. Failure to wear a drivers badge is extremely serious, it is imperative that the travelling public know that the driver of a hackney carriage has been checked by the Council and that they are licensed, the badge seeks to reassure this and it is illegal to then fail to wear this.”

Tracy Brzozowski, licensing and enforcement manager at Rossendale council added: “We will continue to conduct these inspections regularly. Licensed taxis are regularly tested and further taxi inspections are scheduled to take place to ensure all taxis are safe for customers. The lack of basic maintenance and defects found on some of the taxis was disappointing. A paying customer should always expect a road worthy vehicle.”

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

Swadlincote minicab firm fined for unlicensed driver

A boss at a South Derbyshire minicab firm has been ordered to pay more than £1,300 for operating a private hire vehicle with an unlicensed driver.

The vehicle, which was stopped in Ashby on June 5 last year as part of an enforcement operation being conducted by North West Leicestershire District Council, was being driven by Khawar Sadaf Khan, working for Swad Cars, based on the Sharpe’s Industrial Estate off Alexandra Road, Swadlincote.

When Khan was unable to produce his licence, the case was reported to South Derbyshire District Council as the licensing authority, which established that Khan was not registered as a private hire driver in South Derbyshire.

The vehicle was, however, licensed to Mohammed Afzal, one of the operators of Swad Cars.

When interviewed under caution, Afzal admitted that Swad Cars had allowed Khan to drive the private hire vehicle and given him work without requiring him to produce his licence.

Appearing at Southern Derbyshire Magistrates’ Court, Afzal, of Branston Road, Burton, admitted knowingly operating a private hire vehicle within a controlled district with an unlicensed driver.

The 31-year-old was fined £350 and was told to pay a victim surcharge of £35, as well as costs of £1,000.

At an earlier hearing Khan, 30, of Sunnyhill Avenue, Derby, pleaded guilty by post to driving a private hire vehicle without having a current private hire licence and, in his absence, Southern Derbyshire Magistrates’ Court fined him £300, as well as ordering him to pay £250 in costs and a £30 victim surcharge.

A South Derbyshire District Council spokesman said: “Making sure that private hire vehicles are properly licensed is part of our commitment to upholding safety standards in South Derbyshire.

“Private hire firm operators have a duty of care to their customers and must work with us to ensure they are meeting this requirement.”

More information about private hire licensing in South Derbyshire is available online at www.south-derbys.gov.uk/environment/licences

Read more: http://www.burtonmail.co.uk/

South Lanarkshire Council boss disciplined over taxi contracts awarded to his nephew

The Sunday Herald reports that a senior employee at South Lanarkshire Council has been disciplined after an investigation into over £200,000 of taxi contracts awarded to his nephew.

Peter Henry, who was the election agent for Labour’s deputy leader on the local authority, has been given a written warning following a seven-month probe by auditors.

The Sunday Herald revealed in September that Henry, the council’s passenger services coordinator, had been suspended after an anonymous complaint was lodged.

His job was to oversee transport provision for citizens referred by the education and social work departments.

The complaint centred on payments for taxi services to his nephew Stephen McGhee, who according to the council’s website was awarded around £210,000 since 2013.

The contracts were made via a framework agreement and the individual deals were worth £32,300, £51,244, £19,000, £24,320, £18,300, £31,720, £18,056 and £15,288.

The council’s internal investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing by Henry, but it is understood the local authority believes the family link meant he should not have been involved in the awards.

Henry was given a warning and it is also understood his duties will be re-aligned.

After Henry was initially suspended, this newspaper also revealed the links he and McGhee had to Labour in South Lanarkshire.

Henry was lined up to run deputy council leader Jackie Burns’ Holyrood election campaign, but this never materialised after Burns resigned the candidacy last year.

A leaked email also revealed that Henry and McGhee organised a dinner for Burns on council premises in 2015: “Peter Henry and Stephen McGhee have organised a fundraising dinner dance in the Banqueting Hall at Council Offices, Almada St., Hamilton on Friday, 27th Feb. at 7pm, in aid of next year’s Scottish Parliament election fund.

“This is primarily aimed at a target audience of supporters beyond the Party membership, but any members who would like to come would be very welcome.”

It is also understood that McGhee attended a meeting with a PR company last year about creating a website for Burns’ campaign.

According to Companies House, McGhee is the director of various companies. There is no also suggestion of wrongdoing by Burns or McGhee.

Christina McKelvie, who is standing for the SNP in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse for the Holyrood election, said: “Not a year goes by that we don’t see yet another scandal at South Lanarkshire Council. The Council needs to examine very urgently how it manages the procurement of services, planning procedures, contracts and more.

“For a Labour-led Council to regard it as perfectly acceptable to award over £200,000 on taxi contracts to a family member is obviously unacceptable.

“The structural advantage the party once had is in smithereens and councillors are now being repeatedly exposed to a very angry public.”

Graham Simpson, a Tory councillor who is also standing in the Holyrood election, said: “My understanding is that this was the subject of a quite forensic internal investigation, which has resulted in disciplinary action being taken. Councils need to ensure they are whiter than white. Sometimes external investigators should be brought in but I am satisfied this is the end of the matter in this case.”

John Wilson, who is contesting the Holyrood election for the Scottish Greens, said: “This case highlights the need for independent scrutiny of council contracts, especially where there are clear conflicts in the awarding of contracts to friends and family.”

A spokesman for South Lanarkshire council said: “I can confirm that disciplinary proceedings have been completed. However, it would be inappropriate to comment further on a personnel matter of this nature.”

McGhee could not be reached.

source: The Sunday Herald

House of Commons – Cross Border Hiring

28th April 2016

Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Health)

Back in 1847 when Lord John Russell was Prime Minister, our taxi licensing laws were developed. We now have a problem in the north-west of England, where one local authority is handing out hackney carriage taxi licences like sweeties. The problem is that with a hackney licence a person can operate as a private hire vehicle driver anywhere in the country, so there are now taxis from that local authority operating as far afield as Bristol without appropriate checks and balances. May we have an urgent debate on how we can bring our taxi licensing regime up to date?

Chris Grayling Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Palace of Westminster (Joint Committee)

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I was not aware of the situation that he describes. I will make sure that it is drawn to the attention of the Secretary of State for Transport who I am sure, if he was also unaware of it, will want to look at the matter very seriously.

South Ribble leader forced to speak on taxi driver scandal

The Leader of South Ribble Borough Council has pledged all recommendations from the ongoing review of its licensing function will be implemented.

Speaking at a full council meeting to discuss the issue, Councillor Margaret Smith stressed the independent investigation had yet to be concluded but that the authority had already taken action to act upon its interim findings.

She said: “I want to reassure the residents of South Ribble that nothing matters more to this council than their safety, and in particular that of our children and young people. We acted swiftly as soon as issues relating to the licensing service were brought to our attention and are determined to learn any lessons the report highlights.

“This council is committed to being open and transparent. When we receive the final independent report it will be published in full, which has always been our clear intention. This council is not afraid to open itself up to external challenge, to accept where improvements can be made, and to ensure they are implemented.

“The report which has been publicised over the last week was only ever an interim version. It was certainly not in a suitable format to be shared as widely as it was. It included individual’s names and information that could jeopardise ongoing disciplinary procedures concerning members of staff.

“The interim report has set out a number of recommendations for making sure our licensing service works effectively in the future. We have accepted all of them and have taken them forward.

“The recommendations include a comprehensive exercise to ensure all taxi licence applications have the right documentation in place, and steps to reinforce our staff’s understanding of their role in protecting the public. We will also roll out a refreshed programme of mandatory safeguarding training for all staff over the coming months.

“Over and above the recommendations in the interim report, we have also put in place additional resources, extra checks on taxi licences, reformed our procedures and invested in extra technology to improve the way our licensing service operates. The safeguarding board and the county council have also been given assurances about the swift action we have taken and our commitment to continue working with them and keeping them fully informed.”

Councillors agreed for the scrutiny committee to oversee the publication of the final report, and identify any further lessons that need to be learnt.
Councillor Smith added:

“There is a shared commitment on all sides of the council to public safety. It is important we work together on a cross-party basis to ensure the improvements that may be required in the licensing department are carried out.

“We will put an action plan in place to ensure that any further recommendations from the final report are implemented. I am absolutely determined to protect the public and we will make sure that our licensing functions are absolutely and completely spot on.”

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

Uber drivers licensed with Transport for London are flooding into Bristol for work

Uber cars from London are flooding into Bristol for work, leaving local taxi drivers angry and out of pocket. Dozens of the private hire cars have been spotted taking fares in the city – even though they are licensed in the capital.

Taxi drivers based in Bristol say it is damaging to point they have considered strike action in a bid for authorities to clamp down on the influx.

It is not illegal for Uber drivers based elsewhere to work in Bristol, as long as they fill the right licensing criteria. But Transport for London, which licenses taxis in the capital, said a ‘grey area’ could make it easier for cabbies based in the capital to take jobs in Bristol.

Photos sent to the Post reveal scores of Uber cabs registered to TfL working in Bristol.

“It’s affected everyone’s earnings to a point where I’m probably at least 10 to 15 per cent down on what I was earning last year,” said Bristol-based driver Bill Sawyer, who has been taking fares in the city for 26 years.

“They’re quite clearly working here full time and nothing is being done about it.”

Mr Sawyer, who drives for V Cars and also works for Uber occasionally, is one of dozens of drivers angry that London-drivers are taking fares in Bristol. A WhatsApp group used by more than 250 taxi drivers in Bristol is now being used regularly to point out TfL-licensed cars.

An Uber spokesman said the company, which works in 60 countries, encourages its drivers to work in the authority they are licensed – but ‘does not instruct partners on where they should work’.

He added: “Private hire drivers are able to start or end a trip anywhere in the UK provided that their private hire licence and vehicle licence match the licensed operator that processes their booking.”

Mr Sawyer said he has been picked up by London-licensed drivers when using Uber as a passenger, but that some of those drivers have insisted they are Bristol-based. Striking was ‘a serious consideration’, he said.

A Transport for London spokesman said working between cities is legal ‘as long as the booking goes through’ where a driver is licensed.

“It’s a grey area because you don’t know how the booking is accepted, so if the booking is accepted in London then it’s legal,” he said.

“If a driver is licensed and their vehicle is licensed and the operator is licensed in the same place, they can then operate in other parts of the country. With Uber there is an operating centre in London and as long as a driver and vehicle are licensed they could go and work in Bristol.”

A Bristol City Council spokesman said: “Private hire operators can perfectly legally subcontract bookings between operators.”

Read more: http://www.bristolpost.co.uk/

East Cambs and Fenland taxi drivers protest as they hand community transport funding ‘dossier’ to Cambridgeshire County Council

Allegations levelled by East Cambs and Fenland taxi drivers over community transport funding in the county are to be investigated.

Around 20 drivers from across the area lobbied county councillors at Shire Hall, Cambridge on Tuesday where they presented a 38 page report by a private investigation firm.

Cambridgeshire Bus, Coach and Taxi Association has funded a £1,000 report by Woodgate Investigations into concerns that FACT (Fenland Association for Community Transport) and community transport groups including Ely and Soham Community Transport (EACT) and Huntingdonshire Association for Community Transport (HACT) have been given an unfair commercial advantage over members of the association.

Association leader Dave Humphrey, who has led a three-and-a-half-year campaign to highlight what he terms “the unfairness of the way county council transport contracts are awarded to community transport groups” presented the document to Councillor Ian Bates, chairman of the economic and environment committee and Graham Hughes, executive director of economy, transport and environment.

Mr Hughes said the documents will now be looked at and discussed internally and they will report back on their findings.

Taxi drivers and firms from Fenland and the Ely area helped fund the report following the launch of the association in September last year.

Councillor Paul Clapp said: “If corruption has been carried out by, officers should be sacked and so should councillors.”

Councillor Alan Lay branded the document as “dynamite” and said “the allegations must be thoroughly investigated”.

Gregory Page, director of Woodcote Investigations, whose credentials include being a retired detective with Cambridgeshire police, said in summary of his findings: “It’s my professional opinion the evidence is supportive of a far more in-depth investigation than can be identified to have previously taken place.

“Only such an investigation would give the transparency the documented evidence indicates is needed.”

Wisbech taxi driver, parish councillor Dave Patrick said: “This is a very comprehensive report and the findings now need to be verified as either true or false.”

In the past Mr Humphrey working with two or three fellow taxi drivers have been dismissed as simply being “vexatious” and have been accused of running an “unwarranted and unsubstantiated vendetta”.

Mr Humphrey said: “We were dismissed as just a couple of taxi drivers, that’s why we have employed a professional investigator.”

A Cambridgeshire County Council spokesman said: “The council has been made aware of some potentially serious allegations regarding the misuse of grant funding. “Whilst, we the council, have confidence in the diligence and propriety of its officers, given the nature of the allegations the information provided is currently under review to establish whether further action is warranted.

“It would be inappropriate to comment further at this point.”

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

Demand for answers on taxi drivers child abuse scandal

Further questions have been raised over South Ribble Council’s handling of a taxi driver child abuse investigation.

After a report over allegations of two taxi drivers exploiting two girls was kept secret, the press and public may face being excluded from a special meeting on the issue.

Labour called the ‘extraordinary meeting’, which will take place on April 27, but the Tory-led council is insisting councillors vote on whether the public can attend.

Officers insist this is a “matter of course” as two members of the licensing department are suspended, pending results of an investigation.

Labour leader Coun Paul Foster said: “The whole point of us calling this meeting is to get things out in the open. We want absolute transparency but they (the council) are still trying to surpress information coming out. It’s appalling.”

At Tuesday night’s scrutiny committee meeting, members who tried to ask questions about the issue were prevented from doing so by council officers.

Committee chairman, Coun Mick Tithertington, said the problem arose when questions were asked about data sharing between licencing and the police, something criticised in the investigation report.

He said: “The director said it was going off the agenda and there was a meeting next week for that. I reminded him that it was perfectly valid to ask questions covered by the partnership, though I did acknowledge we were not able to discuss individual cases.

“The main purpose of scrutiny is to hold the executive to account and it’s important members ask penetrating questions.”

A spokesman for South Ribble Borough Council said: “It is the council’s intention to discuss the issues surrounding the licensing function of the council, including ongoing investigations, in public.

“However, there is an agenda section on Exclusion of the Press and Public. That is not unusual as it is a constitutional requirement when discussing officers and their conduct.

“We are in the middle of a live investigation based on sensitive and confidential information. We have to be extremely cautious about how we could impact, not only on that investigation, but also the disciplinary hearings of two officers. It was, therefore, inappropriate for councillors to discuss these matters at Tuesday’s scrutiny meeting.

“The final report, however, will be published in full – as always intended – when it is completed.

“The council has acted robustly since these issues were brought to our attention. We commissioned the external, independent review and have been working hard to implement its recommendations.

“We are doing a job and that job is not yet complete. When it is we will share our findings.”

Coun Matthew Tomlinson, Lancashire County Council’s member for young people, said he was writing to LCC’s chief executive and leader, asking them to demand reassurances from South Ribble Council that the safeguarding of children has not, and is not, being compromised by the way in which this situation is handled.

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

Commons Questions – deregulation act

Taxis: Licensing

Department for Transport written question – answered on 18th April 2016.

Julian Sturdy Conservative, York Outer

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, what assessment he has made of the likelihood of private hire operators straddling licensing authorities in order to avoid more thorough licensing requirements under the Deregulation Act 2015.

Andrew Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

Before these measures were introduced, the Department undertook an informal targeted consultation, which focused on key stakeholders such as national licencing associations, respected solicitors in the taxi and private hire industry and a union. The Department also conducted an impact assessment for this policy.

Council accused of failing to check school-run drivers in new child abuse scandal

The Daily Mirror reports that Children as young as five are alleged to have been targeted in South Ribble, Lancashire, The New Day reports

Children as young as five were “sexually exploited” by taxi ­drivers after a local council failed to run background checks, a new report claims.

Drivers in South Ribble, Lancashire, have been accused of violating children while ­carrying out council-funded school runs, according to an interim review of the licensing of hackney carriages and private hire vehicles by South Ribble Council.

The horrifying report – which bears troubling similarities to the Rotherham sex abuse scandal – claims children were being put at risk on their daily commute.

It classes the failure of ­authorities to vet 44 of its drivers as particularly severe, since a report into the Rotherham attacks had warned 1,400 victims were picked up by taxis from school and children’s homes.

The report – ordered by the Cabinet after a string of local government failings – details one shocking case involving a five-year-old girl whose family claim she is so disturbed she can no longer socialise with other children.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decided the five-year-old victim was too young to give evidence – even though
the report noted that “police believed the driver had ­committed the offence”.

And for months the accused driver was allowed to keep his taxi licence until a few weeks ago when the girl’s family won a fight to make the council revoke it.

Two licensing officers who allegedly issued licences without checks have now been ­suspended in light of the report, but the victims’ families claim it is not enough.

The aunt of the five-year-old girl said: “My niece has been left totally traumatised.

“She’s gone back to wetting herself and sits alone in the ­playground during breaks.

“She told her mum this man had touched her inappropriately.

“He was on police bail but he kept his licence and was still driving around until a few weeks ago when the authority finally stepped in and revoked his licence.

“It’s an absolute disgrace.

“He’s been driving around picking up schoolchildren and all the while the council did nothing.”

In another incident, a 16 year old, who was taken to school as part of a contract with Lancashire County Council, feared she was going to be raped by a driver.

“It is claimed he propositioned the “vulnerable” teen but the council failed to revoke his licence.

The report reads: “Driver in case A transported a vulnerable 16-year-old girl as part of a school contract for Lancashire County Council.

A complaint was received by the county council that this driver made inappropriate ­sexualised remarks to the girl.

“The driver in case B was arrested for a sexual offence against a primary school age girl.

“The CPS decided not to ­proceed with prosecution against the driver because of potential difficulties in such a young ­witness giving evidence.

“However, police have been clear that they consider the driver did commit the offence.

“It is reasonable to assume the driver poses a safeguarding risk.”

Yet licensing officers tasked with investigating the alleged abuses failed to take action and didn’t interview the drivers “under caution” or take ­statements from the witnesses. Instead, their report states, they appeared to allow the police investigation to “lead their own”.

It also states no “significant data sharing” took place between the Tory-led South Ribble Borough Council and police.

And a handwritten note by the 16 year old “expressing fears of being raped by the driver” was present in a paper file but never presented to the General Licensing Committee.

Lawyers brought in to carry out the independent review, said they had spoken to a number of council officers and examined documents.

The report also found ­“inadequate appreciation” of the council’s duty to protect children and members of public who use taxis.

South Ribble’s statement

In a formal statement, South Ribble Borough Council said: “We are currently investigating a number of issues within the licensing section.

“The council takes matters of public safety extremely seriously and we are currently undertaking a full review of all taxi licences, including drivers and vehicles.

“Where issues have been highlighted, these have been rectified without incident.

“Two licensing officers are currently suspended subject to ongoing disciplinary proceedings.

“We continue to operate a full licensing service in the meantime.

“An independent investigation is ongoing and will be published in due course.

“We are unable to comment further at this stage.”

‘Covering the initial issue gets you in a mess’

South Ribble councillor Matthew Tomlinson, who is also a Lancashire County Councillor and Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Schools, said he was “appalled” by the report.

He said: “If something goes wrong with regard to child safeguarding you should throw the doors open and say, ‘My God, this is terrible’ and ‘We need help,’ but this looks as if the council has tried to bury it for as long as it possibly could. Trying to cover the initial issue is what gets you in a mess.

“We all must look at what’s happened in other places like Rotherham and be vigilant that it’s not happening on our doorstep, but it appears South Ribble has failed in that respect.

“I was only made aware of this interim report at the end of last week from colleagues at South Ribble and, as far as I’m aware, as a County Council we still haven’t officially been told about the difficulties.

“I’ve heard everything second-hand.”

Revelations a reminder of Rotherham

Is Rotherham repeating itself? The latest revelations are particularly chilling in light of the widespread sexual abuse that occurred in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, between 1997 and 2013.

Then, the local council, police and other authorities effectively covered-up the sexual exploitation of an estimated 1,400 children, mainly by men of Pakistani-Muslim heritage – many of them were taxi drivers.

Local investigations began into alleged abuse in 1999, but reports were lost, stolen, never finished or made public.

The Home Affairs Select Committee later slammed the handling of the hundreds of cases of rape, abduction, sex trafficking and torture of young people. Home Secretary Theresa May blamed the failures on “institutionalised political correctness”.

The leader of Rotherham Borough Council, Roger Stone, resigned, as did the council’s Chief Executive, Martin Kimber, and the Director of Children’s Services, Joyce Thacker.

Around 25 taxi drivers lost their licences over fears they helped trafficked victims.

Sarah Wilson was 11 when a man raped her in a school playground at night. She was driven across the country to be raped by multiple men. Asked what she thought of police and her social workers, she said:
“Crap, they’re just crap.”

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