John calls on Government to back tougher taxi checks

MP John Healey has called for the Government to help Rotherham Council’s efforts to toughen up its taxi licensing policy.

Rotherham Council’s licensing board agreed on 27 October to undertake consultation on a new Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Policy. The policy aims to raise standards in Rotherham making them amongst the most stringent in the country.

Rotherham’s current policy is already tougher than in some other areas and complies with national legislation – but this allows for significant variations across the country.

Mr Healey said: “Rotherham rightly wants to do all it can to restore public confidence in the town’s taxi service and ensure our drivers meet the highest standards in the country.

“But the council can only control and enforce licences issued in Rotherham. Their hands are tied when drivers who don’t meet our standard get a licence somewhere else without the same checks then come and work in our town.

“This loophole needs to be closed but the Government is dragging its feet.”

In September, the MP wrote to the minister responsible for taxi regulation at the Department for Transport, Baroness Kramer, raising concerns about the variation in local authority checks.

Following concerns raised by a constituent, Mr Healey told her he was worried that drivers refused a taxi licence in one town could still obtain one elsewhere then return to work in the area where they were turned down.

The MP said in the letter that this was a particular concern because of the reported involvement of taxis in child sexual exploitation in Rotherham and other towns and cities.

The Law Commission published a report into the taxi industry and a draft Bill five months ago, in May. Among the recommendations were that driver and vehicle standards should be standardised and that licensing officers should be able to take action against vehicles, drivers and operators licensed outside their area.

Senior officers at Rotherham Council have told Mr Healey they would like to see the Government act to bring both of these changes into law.

But the minister’s reply said the Government was still considering the Law Commission’s work, would respond “in due course” and Baroness Kramer said she would make no further comment.

Mr Healey has written back, saying: “Your response gives no recognition of the problem or that the issue of differing standards between authorities is potentially a risk. Nor did you give a direct answer to the points in my letter reflecting the concerns I and my constituent have.

“You as the minister for taxi regulation and your transport colleagues seem to be giving no weight to these problems and no priority to any action in dealing with them.”