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PCC Vera Baird QC, Police Chief and Council Leaders unite to urge the Government to take action

2nd September 2016

Today, a letter has been sent to the Secretary of State for Transport, the Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP, by political leaders and Northumbria’s Police Chief, urging him to take action in relation to the issuing of taxi licences.

The letter has been signed by Vera Baird QC, Police & Crime Commissioner for Northumbria, Steve Ashman, Chief Constable for Northumbria Police and the six council leaders who cover Tyne & Wear and Northumberland, they are demanding the government take action to safeguard people who use taxis and to make the system of issuing licences more open and transparent.

Currently, it is possible for a private hire or hackney carriage driver to be refused a licence by one local authority only to be granted a licence by another.  Local authorities can issue a licence if they are satisfied an applicant is a “fit and proper” person  – however, there is no definition or criteria to what a “fit and proper” person should be.  The letter also urges the Secretary of State to review and update the guidelines as to what sort of criminal offences will be of particular concern when considering fitness and lengths of time whereby an applicant should be free of conviction.  The authors of the letter are urging the government has consistency, it is wrong that the guidelines states that in respect of offences of indecency, an applicant should be three to five years free of convictions, however, in Rotherham, the policy states that any applicant with any kind of sexual or indecency offence will be refused a licence, some council’s state that there should be a five to ten year lapse – all signatories of the letter agree that anyone with a sexual or indecency offence should be refused a licence.

Vera Baird QC, said: “Rotherham have shown the importance of getting this issue right.  We have to do all that we can so safeguard and protect vulnerable young people and adults.  We are sending a clear message to government, they need to get the rules around issuing taxi licences sorted.   There is only one chance to get it right and in the interests of safeguarding, no-one with a sexual or indecency offence should be driving a taxi.  The government needs to get this sorted, quickly and the North East stands ready to lead the way in delivering change in this area – but we can’t do it without the government.”

Cllr Iain Malcolm, Leader of South Tyneside Council, said: “As a group we will always come together to do whatever it takes to keep local residents safe.  It is ludicrous that taxis licence rules set by government are open to different interpretation by different local authorities.  This needs tightened up, the same rules should be applied in every area – then we will all have confidence in the rules being used to grant licences.”

The letter to Mr Grayling includes a recommendation that there should be a national database, similar to the Disclosure and Barring Service, of all applicants who have applied for a licence, using a national framework and the reasons for any refusal should be included on the database.  This would allow quick and easy access to local authority staff to see if previous applications have been made and the reasons for refusal.