To consider a report by the Chief Officer Elections and Regulatory which informs Members of the self-assessment by the council in the new Statutory Guidance for licensing authorities issued by the DfT in July 2020.
The report highlights the areas where the new guidance has already been satisfied, where largely satisfied, and where either not met or at odds with the guidance, using a green, amber and red rating for each of the respective categories.
The report seeks Member views on the proposed response to the consultation and implications for current and planned policy reviews.
The Chief Officer Elections and Regulatory submitted a report which informed Members of the new Statutory Guidance for licensing authorities issued by the Department for Transport (DfT) in July 2020.
Members were informed that while the guidance does not change the underlying UK law, it provides strong guidance for every licensing authority in England and Wales. The DfT has requested that every licensing authority in the UK report a self-assessment against the guidance.
Addressing the report the Taxi and Private Hire Licensing Manager explained the submitted report represented the Council’s self-assessment against the Statutory Guidance and highlighted the areas where the new guidance had already been satisfied, where largely satisfied, and where either not met or at odds with the guidance, using a green, amber and red rating for each of the respective categories.
Members noted that for a small number of sections of the guidance, the council’s current position either remained short of the standard proposed, or differed significantly from the approach the guidance strongly recommended, the sections referred to included:
· Decision Making and Regulatory Structure
· Booking and Dispatch Staff
· Suspension and Revocation of Drivers Licences
The Chair acknowledged the receipt of representation received from the Taxi and Hackney Carriage Trade (Eurocabs Hackney Carriage Association and JTC).
The representation emphasized the need for the Statutory Guidance to be adopted with particular reference to the “convening of Boards or Sub Committees for licensing decisions and also the uncertainty and accepting punishment without being found guilty”.
Decision Making and the Regulatory Structure – Members were informed that the guidance recommended that councils operate with a Regulatory Committee or Board or Sub Committee that was convened at periodic intervals to determine licensing matters, with individual cases being considered by a panel of elected and suitably trained councillors drawn from a larger Regulatory Committee or Board.
Members queried how often such a Sub Committee would meet.
The Taxi and Private Hire Licensing Manager suggested it may be necessary to convene Sub Committees on a weekly basis, bringing only contentious issues to the Committee.
The Section Head, Legal Services advised that notwithstanding a decision made by the Sub Committee, an applicant would still have a right to appeal through the Magistrates Court.
In the discussion that followed, the majority of Members were of the view that the involvement of a Sub Committee may not improve the situation in deciding individual cases fairly and quickly.
It was suggested that the Licensing Committee undertake a review of the decision making process, which would then be subsequently be applied by officers, supervisors and managers.
Members were supportive of the suggestion.
Booking and Dispatch Staff - Members were informed that the guidance recommended that Licensing Authorities should be satisfied that private hire vehicle operators can demonstrate that all staff that have contact with the public and/or oversee the dispatching of vehicles do not pose a risk to the public. Licensing Authorities should, as a condition of granting an operator licence, require a register of all staff that will take bookings or dispatch vehicles is kept. Operators should be required to evidence that they have had sight of a Basic DBS check on all individuals listed on their register of booking and dispatch staff and to ensure that Basic DBS checks are conducted on any individuals added to the register and that this is compatible with their policy on employing ex-offenders.
The Taxi and Private Hire Licensing Manager reported that the council does not currently have this requirement in place in the Private Hire Operator conditions. While vehicle proprietors, private hire operators and both hackney carriage and private hire drivers are required to have a DBS, operators’ staff taking phone calls and bookings are not currently required to do so.
In the discussion that followed, Members were of the view that in order to protect vulnerable people and children it was important to ensure that Basic DBS checks were introduced for all booking and dispatch staff.
All Members were supportive of the proposed action
Suspension and Revocation of Drivers Licences - Members were informed that the guidance recommended that a decision is made to either suspend or revoke a licence, and that a licence, once suspended, should seldom be revoked.
Members were informed that Licensing Authorities had the option to suspend or revoke a licence should information be received that causes concern over whether a driver is a fit and proper person. Where the licence holder has been served an immigration penalty or convicted of an immigration offence the licence should be revoked immediately. Before any decision is made, the licensing authority must give full consideration to the available evidence and the driver should be given the opportunity to state his or her case. If a period of suspension is imposed, it cannot be extended or changed to revocation at a later date.
The Taxi and Private Hire Licensing Manager reported the council currently operates a procedure where licensing officers, supervisors and managers can make decisions to suspend a licence on immediate public safety grounds to allow the council or the police to conduct an investigation. This is in line with the Local Government Miscellaneous Provisions Act 1976, section 61 a) and b), and captured in an immediate suspension policy.
Members queried if LCC policy on the suspension and revocation of drivers licences was compliant with Statutory Guidance.
The Taxi and Private Hire Licensing Manager confirmed that currently the Statutory Guidance was not being followed, for some serious offences a licence could be revoked based on the evidence available at the time (Paragraph 9.7 of the Statutory Guidance).
In the discussion that followed, Members were of the view that statutory guidance must be given due regard and the decision making process around suspension and revocation of drivers licences requires a policy review, which could be aligned with the review of decisions.
All Members were supportive of the proposed action
(i) To undertake a policy review of the Decision Making and the Regulatory Structure (decision making process by officers/ Members), which would then be subsequently be applied by officers, supervisors and Managers.
(ii) To introduce when the Private Hire Operator policy is next reviewed, the requirement for operators to carry out Basic DBS checks for all booking and dispatch staff.
(iii) To undertake a policy review of the decision making process around suspension and revocation of drivers licences.