South Staffordshire Council is considering handing over taxi licensing functions to a neighbouring authority in a move that is claimed could cut costs and improve public safety.
Stourbridge News reports that councillors and officers from the district authority have met with City of Wolverhampton Council to discuss the transfer, a report has revealed.
If the delegation of hackney carriage and private hire vehicle licensing to the city council is approved it could be for an initial period of three years.
Members of South Staffordshire Council’s Regulatory and Licensing Committee were due to discuss the proposals at a meeting on Thursday September 16.
They went into a private session before considering the move, but the report was available for public view ahead of the meeting.
It said the benefits of delegating taxi licensing functions to City of Wolverhampton Council include greater choice for the trade in terms of garages, medical practitioners and online applications, as well as boosting public safety through tighter standards and improved enforcement activity. The move could also reduce licensing costs for the trade and council costs, the report added.
It said: “The taxi market is undergoing significant change in the same way that licensing authorities are. This has been further accelerated through the Covid pandemic.
“The key challenges (include) the need for greater enforcement resources to be devoted to taxi licensing as a result of various investigations into child sexual exploitation.
“App-based booking systems, supported by case law, make the traditional view of a private hire operator in an office with a phone located within the boundary of the licensing authority outdated.
“SSDC (South Staffordshire Council) faces the same financial challenges that all public sector organisations are facing in trying to achieve a balanced budget and financial stability through its Medium-Term Financial Strategy.
“The Covid pandemic has forced the way we do business with the trade to find on-line rather than face to face solutions to processing applications for licences. It has also created additional urgency in reducing the financial burdens on both the Council and the taxi trade.
“City of Wolverhampton Council (CWC) has embraced and dealt with these changes. The level of process change and investment by CWC, embracing new technology for service delivery taking into account the new technology used by the taxi trade, along with a robust approach to compliance and enforcement is impressive.
“Members and officers have met with CWC and it was decided to explore the opportunity for joint working.”
In recent years South Staffordshire Council has seen a reduction in income from taxi licensing. Although income this year is currently estimated to be higher than 2020/21 declines are expected in the coming years.
The report said: “The council has been struggling to balance income and expenditure on taxi licensing for the last five years, and this will increasingly become more difficult with a balance shortfall of £25,000 expected by 2023.
“The council will lose its income stream from taxi licensing fees if we enter into the agreement with CWC. For 20/21 this is budgeted at £60k. As indirect costs are inflexible in the short term and as it is anticipated that direct costs will be redeployed to support environmental health work, then the council faces a situation where potentially it loses £60K income but keeps all the cost.
“Staffing will be retained in order to continue to meet statutory targets for the wider environmental health team. Redeployment of resources is crucial to supporting administration and electronic filing systems in the service on a long term basis.
“There are however a number of matters that CWC need to deliver from SSDC premises and using SSDC staff including room hire, training, organising and servicing committee hearings, contract management and reporting. Facility will be made within the proposed transfer agreement for CWC to purchase services from the council to the value of approximately £60K per annum for three years
“There will therefore be no net cost of the transfer to CWC.”