Derby councillors have expressed shock that a new points-based checks system for taxi licensing in the city could lead to a doubling of licence fees and “inevitable higher fares” for the public.
It was revealed that almost £140,000 is needed to pay for five additional staff to run the system, which is meant to be self-funding and intended to stop rogue taxi drivers operating in Derby, at a meeting of the city council’s licensing committee.
The new system, affecting the city’s 1,300 licensed taxi drivers, would see powers taken away from councillors and put into the hands of council officers, using a points-based system based on previous convictions.
The meeting was intended to approve a long list of 14 additional proposals as part of the overhaul of the taxi licensing system, in readiness for its implementation on June 30. The points-based checks system had already been given the go-ahead at a meeting of the full council on November 23 last year.
Approval for £138,500 to be spent on staffing, which was the last item at the end of almost three hours, led to councillors asking for more details and a business plan to be drawn up – throwing the new system into disarray.
According to officers, “any additional costs the council may incur in introducing some or all of the proposals, will need to be met by the trade”.
Councillors were told by officers that one of the posts would be £52,000 to pay for a lawyer because it was anticipated that the number of appeals against licence refusal would increase and have to go before magistrates to be defended. They said this had happened in Leicester, which has a similar system, leading to a 350 per cent increase in appeals, according to council officers.
Eric Ashburner, Lib Dem councillor for Littleover, said that it looked as if the scheme would “double the cost” of licences for taxi drivers and Chris Poulter, Conservative councillor for Spondon, added: “This is a matter of serious concern. I imagine taxi licences will cost at least another £100 to have to pay for this new system and lead to inevitable higher fares.”
Fellow Tory councillor Mick Barker added: “So we come to the truth of the matter. At full council, we were told this would be easily put in place but it seems we have signed up to something that needs to be more resilient and robust. It has been built on a false premise.”
It was agreed by all the councillors present that officers should draw up a business plan because of the “massive implications for the taxi licence fees”.
The new system was originally introduced by Councillor Baggy Shanker, responsible for taxi licensing in the city, who said that it would “provide extra protection for the public”.
It came after a review was carried out following a damning report stating failings in Derby City Council’s taxi licensing system. Expert auditors found that the authority’s taxi licensing sub-committee had allowed licences for people with criminal records who had committed offences including “hate crime, harassment, intimidation and making improper comments to young women”.
In one instance, a taxi driver was granted a licence despite “publishing material threatening or intending to stir up religious/sexual hatred”. In the new points-based system, criminal convictions for the most severe crimes including rape and murder will trigger an automatic lifetime disqualification.
Other lesser crimes will accrue points on a sliding scale. Assault of a police officer, for example, would mean instant refusal for an applicant if it happened less than four years ago. But it would mean six points if committed five years ago, then five points for six years ago, four for seven years ago, and so on.
Any applicant or existing driver who gets “above 12 points” would be disqualified. An alternative change would have seen council officers operate committees similar to the ones currently run by councillors.
After the meeting, Mr Barker said: “The Conservative group was always concerned as to the workings of an officer-based administrative system including a change from member-led sub committees to an untried officer-led points system, which would attract extra staffing requirements.
“It is now obvious that the extra costs, which will be passed on to the taxi trade, will raise serious concerns to drivers and operators alike and potentially cause them to register in cheaper authority areas - leaving Derby with limited control over taxi services.”
Other items, which were approved by the committee included; allowing licences to be renewed online; disclosure and barring checks (DBS) to be carried out by registered agencies; a requirement for new applicants to obtain a level one skills certificate in English, maths and IT; the introduction of a dress code; new applicants to source their own medical examination and the removal of the need for vehicles to have minimum luggage space.
Mr Shanker said: “We are making these important changes to our licensing regime to make it simpler, transparent and robust. There will inevitably be an associated cost but I would also expect savings from not having to run certain aspects of the old system.
“This, in my opinion, will be money well spent and money which will, in the main, have to be recouped from licence fees. On Thursday evening, members of our licensing committee considered the matter of resources, along with a number of other changes that the council asked them to do back in November. They have requested further information to be prepared for the next meeting in March.”
Previously, the Derby Telegraph revealed that more than 1,300 of the city’s 2,800 cabbies were licensed with other authorities, such as Gedling, in Nottinghamshire, and Rossendale, in South Yorkshire.
Mr Barker added: “We are in danger of pushing drivers too far in demanding extra exacting standards and extortionate fees which will lead them to seek registration elsewhere.
That being the case, it undermines the ability of the city council to administer standards on both vehicles and drivers, which is to the detriment of our public that both we and the taxi trade serves.”
Mmmm... Well, this was no surprise – and it’s a perfect example of the reviled penalty points system going wrong before it starts. Let’s get this right: a few bad apples were licensed by Derby Council, so the entire trade has to pay for these mistakes with the funding of extra staff – including a lawyer to brace the council against possible litigation!!! Tell you what: if anybody had the wherewithal amongst the trade in Derby, they could have a field day with this in court – if it is not sorted out to the satisfaction of all concerned. Talk about officer-led...!! Ed.