The Leader of Kirklees Council – Councillor David Sheard, who is leading on a Combined Authority approach to taxi and private hire licensing across West Yorkshire, has raised serious concerns for public safety when new national rules come into force next month.
The changes made by the Deregulation Act will allow private hire operators to sub-contract bookings to other operators anywhere in the country. This could mean customers make a booking with their favourite operator in Kirklees only to receive a vehicle from another operator, licensed by a different council with possibly less rigorous licensing arrangements than we have in place in Kirklees or West Yorkshire.
Those responsible for licensing are especially concerned about this because it could lead to numerous private hire vehicles from other authorities working in the Kirklees district with very different markings on them which may cause confusion and could allow unlicensed drivers or other drivers to illegally ply for hire. This creates a big safety risk for the travelling public.
Compounding the issue is the fact that council enforcement officers, who carry out roadside spot checks, don’t have the powers to inspect vehicles which are licensed by other councils. The Deregulation Act will allow private hire vehicles to work across England and Wales – leaving local enforcement officers powerless to inspect vehicles licensed from other districts.
Councillor Sheard, Leader of Kirklees Council said: “We take the safety of our residents and visitors very seriously and we are very concerned about the implications of the new Act, and the risk it poses to the travelling public.
We have worked hard to establish a strong licensing process with robust policies which includes rigorous background checks on new drivers, ongoing checks for existing drivers and high standards for vehicle safety and customer service.
Our drivers are compulsory required to have training in safeguarding, equalities, customer care and health & safety and are also tested on English language and comprehension skills. All Kirklees drivers also undergo training on child sexual exploitation and human trafficking.
Standards required in other local authority areas of the country may not meet our own. This new legislation will make spotting unlicensed drivers, or drivers illegally plying for hire, much more difficult amongst the subcontracted out of town vehicles – which our enforcement officers will have no powers to stop and inspect.”
The Kirklees licensing team are working to mitigate potential safety risks when the new government legislation is introduced on 1 October.
In order to try to mitigate the impact of the new Act, Kirklees is working with other authorities in West Yorkshire to try and establish some common licensing standards and enforcement compatibility across the West Yorkshire area. Some of the key issues being considered include:
- co-ordinating a scheme of shared delegated powers across all West Yorkshire authorities to enable Licensing and Enforcement Officers to carry out inspections and suspension powers on vehicles licensed by any West Yorkshire authority
- establishing improved common minimum standards in the driver application process
- establishing common training requirements for new applicants
- adopting a common robust convictions policy and convictions criteria
- adopting a common standard for Private Hire Operator conditions