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LGA - Vulnerable children at risk from taxi licensing reforms

Plans to relax taxi laws could put children at greater risk of sexual exploitation, councils are warning.

Currently, anyone using a minicab can travel safe in the knowledge that the only person legally allowed to drive the car will have been through a rigorous council vetting process, including criminal records and medical history checks.

New Government proposals within the Deregulation Bill, set to return to the House of Lords next month, will mean minicab licence holders will be able to allow other people to drive their vehicle when they are off-duty without any of those checks being carried out.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, is warning that this will make it easier for criminal gangs to exploit the system and use licensed vehicles to groom, rape and traffic children.

Independent reports into child sexual exploitation in both Rotherham and Rochdale found abusers used their minicabs to target vulnerable children, highlighting the need to ensure controls in this area remain as tight as possible.

Under the new proposals, someone already with a criminal background – such as for alleged sexual assaults, rapes and organised crime – could legally drive a branded vehicle, meaning they could use it to pick up passengers and target vulnerable children.

Cllr Ann Lucas OBE, Chair of the LGA's Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said:

"Recent child sex abuse cases in Rotherham and Rochdale are a stark reminder of the position of trust that people put in taxi drivers and the vulnerability of some passengers.

"There is a determination across local government that nothing like this can be allowed to happen again. That is why we remain deeply concerned about the Government's plan to relax taxi licensing laws which we believe will make it easier for criminal gangs to target vulnerable children for sexual exploitation.

"Anyone getting into a taxi or private hire vehicle should be assured that the only person allowed to drive the car has had their background thoroughly checked and vetted. The consequences for someone entering a branded vehicle where the driver has not been properly licensed and vetted by the council can be devastating. We should not be increasing the chances of that happening.

"Keeping children safe is our top priority and a responsibility councils take extremely seriously. It is imperative that the Government withdraws these plans so councils can continue to fully check everyone getting behind the wheel of a taxi or private hire vehicle to ensure vulnerable children are kept as safe as possible."

Ministers suggest the fact the taxi licensing rules already apply in London means they can be rolled-out nationwide without the public being put at risk.

However, the Metropolitan Police estimate there are more than 1,000 sexual assaults each year involving taxi drivers in London alone.

Cllr Lucas added: "Unlicensed taxis and touting have been endemic in the capital, providing an ideal cover for dangerous sexual predators. Instead of justifying an extension to these licensing rules, the state of the system in London actually provides strong evidence as to exactly why they cannot be rolled out nationwide."

Notes for editors

1. The Government has inserted new clauses into the Deregulation Bill that would permit anyone to drive a licensed vehicle. This would mean drivers who have not been through this rigorous council vetting process could use the vehicle. The Bill returns to the House of Lords Committee Stage on October 21

2. The independent inquiry into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013 said that "one of the common threads running through CSE across England has been the prominent role of taxi drivers in being directly linked to children who were abused."

3. Two of the men convicted of running a grooming gang in Rochdale were taxi drivers. An independent review into child sexual exploitation in the town said licensing teams need to understand how they can "contribute to the safeguarding agenda". It recommended tougher regulation by calling for "clarity on a national level" as to how local authorities can "suspend and/or revoke licences for taxi drivers… thereby enabling more robust disruption tactics for CSE."

4. Personal safety charity the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, Police and Crime Commissioners, the National Private Hire Association and the National Taxi Association are also opposing the Government's plans.

5. Anyone looking to operate as a private hire vehicle operator must obtain a vehicle and driver licence from their local council. Driver licences last for three years and vehicle licences for up to one year.

6. Councils can refuse licences if they feel the applicant is not a ‘fit and proper person', if they fail to accept the conditions set to the licence or if the vehicle is deemed not roadworthy and is not covered by adequate insurance. Applicants will also be checked for previous criminal convictions, cautions or motoring offences and whether they have ever had a driving or taxi licence refused, suspended or revoked. A medical certificate is also needed from the applicant's doctor while some councils require them to take a test of their knowledge of the local area.

Contact

Greg Burns, Senior Media Relations Officer
Local Government Association
Telephone: 020 7664 3184
Email: greg.burns@local.gov.uk
Media Office (for out-of-hours contact): 020 7664 3333
Local Government House, Smith Square, London SW1P 3HZ

www.local.gov.uk

Channel website: https://www.icaew.com

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