Rotherham council is to regain taxi licensing powers, ministers have announced, in the latest indication the Government is prepared to ease back on special measures in the town.
The local authority has been under the control of Government commissioners since 2015, following a series of revelations around failures in children’s services and governance.
Among the concerns highlighted by investigatords was the council’s handling of taxi licensing, which it was suggested had played a role in the facilitation of child sexual abuse.
But just 20 months after ministers imposed special measures on the council, they have confirmed they are willing to return its taxi licensing powers.
The announcement by the Department for Communities and Local Government comes less than a year after it transferred control over education, planning and leisure services.
Speaking at the time, the former communities secretary Greg Clark claimed the authority had demonstrated “improvements” but still faced “significant challenges”.
However, according to his successor, Sajid Javid, the council has “made rapid progress” under the support and supervision of commissioners. And following the recommendations of lead commissioner Sir Derek Myers, he said he is “minded to return responsibility for licensing back to elected councillors”.
“During my recent visit to Rotherham, I saw for myself how the council has made rapid progress with the support and supervision of commissioners,” Mr Javid said.
“This is a significant step, but let me be clear – I will not hand full control back to the council until I am confident that the failings of the past will not be repeated.”
According to the DCLG, improvements to the licensing system include compulsory training for drivers in safeguarding children and vulnerable adults and a requirement to install camera and audio facilities in all taxis.
The council has also introduced training for advisory board members responsible for licensing, and enhanced checks on the “previous history and fitness of character” of new drivers.
The proposals will now be put to a consultation before the Government makes a final decision. Members of the pubclic have until November 3 to submit representations.
Responding to the announcement, Rotherham Metropolitan Council leader Chris Read said it was “a real vote of confidence” in the work the authority has undertaken “to deliver necessary improvements”.
He said: “We’ve lots more to do, but should this decision be confirmed next month it would be another step in the right direction for the council and for Rotherham.”
Commissioner Mary Ney said the council has worked hard “to implement a range of improvements” to its licensing services and gained “considerable experience”.
“Public confidence and safety is now at the heart of the council’s licensing service... the benefits of which we know passengers are already experiencing,” she said. “Whilst we understand that the council is still on its improvement journey... this will be another significant step forward in that journey.”
The DCLG has stressed that the proposals do not relate to any other powers, which means the commissioners will continue to run children’s social care.