Council says Government “must act now” on cross border licensing following out of town sexual assaul
Sources suggest Government will introduce a long-awaited new Taxi and Private Hire Bill in September.
Council echoes calls for Government to intervene on cross border private hire and taxi licensing, following out of town sexual assault. This call comes after a private hire driver was jailed for 19 months for the abduction and sexual assault of a female passenger in Telford.
28-year-old Raja Ahmed, forced his victim into another car after picking her up following a night out, and groped her breast. The Council is now again urging the Government to change the law that allows drivers to operate in council areas that do not issue their licence. The convicted driver was not licensed by Telford & Wrekin Council, reflecting the situation where the council claims around four in five taxi and private hire drivers in the borough are licensed by other local authorities, who may have less stringent licensing criteria. This is permitted following deregulation in 2015 and the Council has repeatedly urged the Government to change this to ensure that drivers can only operate in the area they are licensed for. The Council is now raising this again with new transport Secretary of State for Transport the Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP following this case. In May 2018, the Council was told by Parliamentary Under Secretary for State Nusrat Ghani MP that the matter was being considered by a task and finish group, which reported its findings in September 2018. Its recommendations included national licensing standards, limits on cross-border working, powers to cap licenses under certain circumstances and higher safeguarding standards. Cllr Richard Overton, cabinet lead for enforcement, said: “Since the Government changed the law in 2015, drivers can lawfully operate anywhere in the country, regardless of where they are licensed. “Standards vary widely across licensing authorities. We can refuse to grant a licence in Telford & Wrekin, yet that person can simply walk in to a neighbouring or other authority and obtain one there, but still work within our area. “We know that some people are applying for and being granted an operator’s licence in another area because the standards there are lower than here. “We also have evidence that licensed private hire drivers who have had their licences revoked here for not being fit and proper and have subsequently been licensed by another local authority. “Public safety is at the forefront of any decisions we make and if we refuse to grant a licence, it will be for legitimate reasons in order to protect the travelling public. For that licence to be granted in another authority just because they have lower standards than here is simply not acceptable. “Councils must be given the authority to protect the communities they serve. We continue to believe a change in the law is urgently needed so that all private hire journeys should either start or end in the controlled district of the local authority which issue the licences. It’s telling that a Government working group last autumn reached the same conclusion. “Taxis licensing and cross border hiring are part of the Independent Inquiry Telford Child Sexual Exploitation Terms of Reference and we will be raising this issue with Independent Inquiry chair. “The Government must act now to help councils with higher licensing standards and protect the public.” TaxiPoint sources suggest that it is now looking increasingly likely that the government will introduce a long-awaited new Taxi and Private Hire Bill in the next session of Parliament in September. It is expected that it will contain legislation to limit Cross Border Hiring (CBH) and to introduce National Minimum Standards for licensing authorities across England and Wales.