In the wake of the sexual abuse scandals in towns such as Rotherham and Rochdale, internal auditors assessed Bristol City Council’s system for licensing drivers of taxis and private-hire vehicles, and now the city is set to tighten up its licensing process.
Internal auditors found the current system to be flawed and "full of holes."
According to a report in the Bristol Live, auditors found Bristol’s licensing process was at it's most weakest when it came to criminal record checks via the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS). During a meeting on March 26, chief internal auditor Jonathan Idle ran through the flaws his team identified and made nine recommendations to address the problems, all of which will be put in place.
Mr Idle said one of the chief concerns was the council’s lack of records showing whether DBS checks had taken place. Mr Idle said “At the time, DBS documentation was not retained, and so we could not provide the assurance that those DBS checks had been undertaken.
"We couldn’t say they have, and we couldn’t say they hadn’t.” The amount of temporary licenses that were being issued was also a big concern for Mr Idle and his team. These licenses were being issued while the council waited for background check information to arrive.
“Members are aware of the potential adverse implications for local authorities when taxi licensing operations do not work effectively,” he said, citing Rotherham and Rochdale.
Enhanced DBS checks were not being requested often enough according to the findings, therefore not ensuring that the licensing committee kept up-to-date information about an applicant’s criminal convictions. The licensing assessment was carried out after the Department for Transport (DfT) published a report in September 2018 containing 34 recommendations to make the licensing of taxi and private hire vehicles safer and more robust.
Ideas on ways to improve safety within the industry were put forward during a survey and included the compulsory installation of CCTV cameras in all taxis and a national licensing database to stop a driver banned from operating on one area of the country simply moving to another where checks are more lenient. Labour councillor for Easton, Afzal Shah, said Bristol-licensed taxis were “in the minority” in the city now. He asked whether the council was working closely enough with neighbouring authorities to manage the risks associated with taxi drivers licensed outside of Bristol. Head of safeguarding, Fiona Tudge, said: “We have got to reach out and work with our neighbouring authorities who are also working with the same issues.”
Cross border hiring has caused major concerns for many licensing authorities but current laws allow drivers to obtain licenses from other areas and work in any city they wish.