Fresh calls have been made for a joint approach to taxi and private hire car licensing across Yorkshire after the latest suggestion that potentially “unscrupulous” drivers are evading stricter regulators’ standards by applying for permits outside their working areas.
A report has claimed how those who have had their licences revoked in places such as Rotherham – now claims to be one of the most stringent licensing authorities in the country after taxi drivers were found to have played a prominent role in the town’s infamous child sex abuse scandal – have been applying for licences in other areas with “lax” procedures but then returning for business.
Transport for London’s (TfL) report sought local authority backing for new legislation to tackle the problem of cross-border drivers after national deregulation.
And a Leeds councillor has now also called for a possible region-wide response after being contacted by drivers who were angered by a lack of enforcement.
Coun Billy Flynn, who sits on Leeds City Council’s Licensing Committee, said: “Although Leeds has not been involved in any of the recent child and young person sex exploitation cases the city must continue to apply the most rigorous standards to ensure it never occurs here.
“It would only take a marginal reduction in standards for unscrupulous drivers to take advantage.
“This is not a difficult problem to resolve locally. It just needs every licensing authority in West Yorkshire (or the whole of Yorkshire) to agree to minimum qualifying standards before issuing a licence.”
Coun Flynn said there have been efforts to “harmonise” licensing approaches by councils in West Yorkshire but that these are in their “infancy”.
Local authorities have to ensure taxi and private hire licences are held only people who are by “fit and proper” – but not all apply the same standards. And the Deregulation Act 2015 allowed drivers with a private hire licence issued by any local authority to use it anywhere in England and Wales.
TfL’s report, circulated by Leeds City Council ahead of a meeting this month, claims drivers whose licences have been revoked “use the lax cross border hiring regulations to work in Rotherham despite not meeting the standards set by the council.
"It is Rotherham’s view that the ‘sole aim of these drivers is to circumvent the high standards that have been introduced’ which ‘will put the public at significant risk of harm’”.
Alan Pogorzelec, Rotherham Council’s Licensing Manager said: “Rotherham Council’s taxi policy sets a standard that is amongst the highest in the country following a fundamental review of our policies over the last three years.
“We have been working with neighbouring councils to get consistent standards in the region and beyond. However, there are some places nationally where standards are not as high, and this means potentially someone from Rotherham can gain a private hire licence this way.
“All Rotherham operators are required to use Rotherham licensed drivers and vehicles. But by law, the Council cannot stop drivers registered elsewhere working in Rotherham. We would always advise people to ask for a Rotherham Council licensed driver when passengers book a taxi, that way passengers can be assured both the driver and the vehicle meets the high standards set out in our new regulations.”
A Leeds City Council spokesman said: "Leeds City Council has lobbied through the Local Government Association to call for the law to be changed around this.
“Working closely with partners, we remain committed and have a robust enforcement approach in place to tackling those taxi and private hire drivers from outside Leeds who are picking up illegally. This includes the council’s enforcement team working closely with two specialised police officers to tackle specifically this problem.
"As part of a 12-month pilot which commenced in October 2017, a number of prosecutions have already being taken against out of town taxi and private hire drivers for plying for hire and other offences.
“We are continuing to listen closely to the views of Leeds-based taxi and private hire drivers, and are currently looking at what further steps can be taken within the confines of existing national legislation.
"It must be noted that in regards to out of town taxis and private hire vehicles operating in Leeds, we can only take action if they are found to be acting unlawfully.
"It is not for example, illegal for taxis or private hire vehicles to operate and undertake pick-ups in the city as long as they are pre-booked.”