Outside of London, the City of Wolverhampton Council (CWC) is currently the largest licensing area for private hire drivers and vehicles. Drivers travel from all around the country to apply for a licence and are offered a swift turnaround upon their applications. But what makes this licensing authority different to others? What about driver and passenger safety? And where does CWC stand on cross-border rules?
TaxiPoint caught up with Councillor Craig Collingswood who is CWC’s newly appointed Cabinet Member for City Environment and Climate Change.
WHAT MAKES CWC SUCH AN ATTRACTIVE LICENSING AUTHORITY FOR PRIVATE HIRE VEHICLE DRIVERS ACROSS ENGLAND?
Under the Deregulation Act 2015, all local authorities can consider applications from outside their council area.
While City of Wolverhampton Council does not actively encourage applications from drivers outside the city, existing legislation requires that if an application is submitted and requirements are met, then the application must be granted.
Wolverhampton’s early adoption of digital technology has allowed it to offer a simple and efficient online application process which applicants can complete at their convenience.
While we are paperless, making applications seamless, our checks are rigorous.
We have introduced technology that checks an applicant’s right to work in real time, similar to the facial recognition systems found at airports.
Drivers are also required to attend in person during the application process.
Through our productive trade working group, we’ve worked closely with our operators to listen to what they need while making sure public safety remains paramount.
By carefully reviewing our policies and procedures we’ve been able to remove unnecessary bureaucracy and hurdles that may have prevented new entrants to the trade.
This streamlined approach has allowed us to make significant administrative savings, which have been passed on to the trade through reduced licence fees.
CWC HAVE BEEN PROACTIVE IN INTRODUCING NEW SAFETY FEATURES FOR DRIVERS WHICH INCLUDES THE ROLL OUT OF SAFETY ALARMS. HOW IMPORTANT IS DRIVER SAFETY TO THE COUNCIL?
Driver safety is critical to the council. We believe that drivers who feel safer at work will provide a better service for their customers, improving outcomes for all.
The council is always looking to support drivers to feel more comfortable in their workplace and works with them to understand the unique challenges they may face.
Alongside the personal safety alarms, the council has worked in partnership with West Midlands Police to produce a safety guide for every driver.
This year, the authority’s regulatory committee has approved the option of installing driver safety enclosures which separate drivers from passengers.
The enclosures were initially proposed at the trade group and, following consultation, have been made into policy.
CCTV is also permitted, to provide reassurance for everyone in the vehicle and driver’s personal safety is a key part of the mandatory driver training programme.
THERE HAS BEEN LOTS OF FOCUS ON DRIVER SAFETY. WHAT ARE CWC DOING TO ENHANCE PASSENGER SAFETY?
Passenger safety is at the core of council policies.
Wolverhampton has created a bespoke computer system which checks DBS certificates registered with the Update Service every day.
Work is underway to introduce a similar in-house automated checking system with the DVLA.
The council is also working with the National Anti-Fraud Network (NAFN) to establish a system where the authority is notified the same day that a driver is revoked anywhere else in the country.
As such, our checks on drivers are pushing the boundaries of modern technology to protect the public.
Comprehensive driver training, covering both passenger and driver safety, is of high importance and City of Wolverhampton Council sends applicants on a mandatory training course delivered by Worcestershire County Council.
This training includes 15 key areas and is followed by a rigorous assessment process which also contains a face-to-face English assessment, followed by a recorded interview where there are any concerns.
The council has the country’s first Taxi Safeguarding Officer, dedicated to all matters safeguarding.
The council also has compliance officers across the country, who conduct proactive operations in partnership with the DVSA and police.
The officers work shifts, ensuring that we have a presence during the night-time economy, on Friday and Saturday nights until the early hours, when there is more likely to be issues.
A scheme to encourage more women into the trade is also underway.
CROSS-BORDER HIRING IS A HOT TOPIC IN THE INDUSTRY. SHOULD MORE LICENSING AUTHORITIES EMBRACE THE POSITIVE ASPECTS OF THE RULE OFFERED TO DRIVERS AND OPERATORS?
The trade has always been able to operate legally across borders.
The Deregulation Act 2015 allows sub-contracting, enabling operators to outsource fares and giving greater flexibility when they do not have capacity to undertake jobs.
This is of note as the number of licenced drivers currently remains below 2019 levels.
There is no financial benefit to the council if operators sub-contract. Taxi licensing is a cost neutral function with guidelines stipulating that any income raised must be used within the service and not in other areas of the council.
We have not actively encouraged or advertised for applications from outside the council area.
However, applicants from outside Wolverhampton often compliment the council’s streamlined processes, quick processing times and low costs.