Paul Adams presented the report which introduced the draft statutory guidance and Officers’ proposed response to the consultation. On paragraph 2.3, Paul Adams pointed out the figures to be added:
· 186 Private hire Vehicles,
· 83 Hackney Carriage Vehicles,
· 41 Private Hire Operators, and
· 371 Drivers.
The Licensing Committee’s comments on the report would be fed into the consultation.
Councillor Hamilton said that some countries were not as efficient to respond to criminal record queries and their databases were not up to date. He asked if there were consequences if a country did not comply with a query. Paul Adams explained that a list was provided by the foreign office which indicated which countries were able to provide required information on criminal records and issue a certificate of good conduct. It was up to the Licensing Sub Committee on whether to grant a licence without the requested information. There may be occasions where convictions from other countries were not disclosed. Councillor Hamilton went on to ask what action could be taken if a person did not want to disclose their conviction within another country. Paul Adams replied that the flaw in licensing was the inability to check whether applicants had lived outside of the UK for more than 6 months. It was an offence to not disclose information requested and the service could only carry out the checks as required.
The Chair commented that 53% of the taxi licensed drivers in England and Wales were non-white and many were born overseas. The service could check with an applicant’s embassy for a certificate of good conduct which should ensure no driver would slip through the checks. Referring to the list provided from the foreign office as mentioned earlier, the Chair said the list was not always accurate so should not be the only information regarding overseas applications to be relied on.
On paragraph 2.76 in appendix 1 (government’s draft guidance) in regards to the safeguarding training, Councillor Redsell asked if drivers were expected to report concerns to the police. Paul Adams answered that all drivers licensed under Thurrock Council were required to undertake the Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) training which was mandatory and to be taken before their licence was due for renewal. Drivers were required to report concerns to the police and reports from drivers had led to two arrests recently.
The Chair questioned if the Department for Transport were consulted on the Council’s guidance and if there was a timescale for the government’s draft guidance to be adopted by. Answering that there was no official consultation, Paul Adams said the government’s draft guidance recommended local authorities to amend their guidance to provide a regulatory guidance. There was no official timescale but the service would aim to have their guidance in place within 12 months.
The Chair thought there were many items within the government’s draft guidance report that could be adopted into the Council’s guidance. He hoped to see that the government were able to adopt the draft guidance despite the current national issues. Agreeing with this, Paul Adams said if the government’s draft guidance was no implemented within 12 months, the Council would look to align their guidance to the government’s draft guidance.
Councillor Redsell raised a query in regards to the level of language proficiency in applicants as most licensed taxi drivers did not speak English. Paul Adams answered that applicants were not required to have a formal English language qualification and an assessment was undertaken to ensure they spoke sufficient English. A minimum level of English proficiency was the standard and the Council’s guidance would include this.
On CCTV, Councillor Hamilton asked if cameras were installed in the vehicles and mentioned a case in which it was deemed illegal. Paul Adams replied that the government’s draft guidance stated that it was mandatory to have CCTV and the Council’s policy included this. On the referred case mentioned, Paul Adams explained that the case referred to audio recording which was not legal as CCTV should not be recording audio, only visual. Drivers could press the audio record button in the event of an emergency only. Councillor Hamilton questioned if there was a panic button for passengers. Paul Adams replied that the installation of a panic button in taxis for passengers could be incorporated into the consultation of the Council’s guidance.
Councillor Rigby queried on whether there were evidence of unlicensed taxis operating in Thurrock. In response, Paul Adams said the previous year had seen a successful prosecution of an unlicensed mini bus driver and enforcement action was taken. As Thurrock did not have a lively night scene similar to London, there were few unlicensed taxis. Where there were some, these were usually big seater vehicles that offered drives to the airport or events and Thurrock Council was unable to take enforcement action on these.
Councillor Sammons questioned how many big seater drivers were licensed in Thurrock. She went on to say that some were licensed taxi drivers but were operating 16 seater vehicles and found it disturbing that Thurrock Council could not take enforcement action in these cases. Paul Adams explained that Thurrock Council granted licences for vehicles of up to 8 seaters. Vehicles with over 8 seats were dealt with by public carriages. However, complaints received by the Licensing Department were investigated.
Councillor Hamilton asked if luxury stretch limousines were counted as 8 seater vehicles. Paul Adams confirmed that there were licenses granted for limousines to operate in Thurrock provided that they were 8 seaters or less. Those with over 8 seats required an operator licence. Councillor Sammons commented that operator licences were a long process and thought it was ideal that the Council granted licences for up to 8 seater vehicles only.
Regarding complaints, the Chair questioned how passengers could complain to Thurrock Council about a driver. Answering that complaints could be made on the Council’s website, Paul Adams also mentioned the vehicle licence stickers that were visible on the licenced vehicles. Stickers detailed the vehicle licence number and how to make a complaint.
Councillor Hamilton asked if the photo of the driver was mandatory in licensed vehicles to which Paul Adams confirmed yes.
The Chair asked the Licensing Committee if there were any further comments regarding the draft response proposed in appendix 3. There were no further comments on appendix 3 and the Licensing Committee was satisfied with the proposed response. The Chair asked the Licensing Committee to forward any other comments that they might have, following the meeting, to the Licensing Department so that the comments could be incorporated into the draft response before 11 April 2019.
That the Licensing Committee considered the proposed draft guidance along with the draft response and fed into the Licensing Department through the Chair any additional thoughts or comments for inclusion in the authority’s response before 11 April 2019.