The response from the LGA in full:
Overall, the LGA welcomes this best practice guidance. It provides helpful clarity on some complex issues in taxi and private hire vehicle (PHV) licensing and will be a useful resource for both licensing authorities and the taxi and PHV trade. It also provides welcome recognition of the important role taxi and PHVs play in the transport network.
Role of licensing authorities
We believe that this section of the guidance useful. It provides some helpful clarity, clearly states that safeguarding should be the primary focus of licensing authorities and signposts to useful resources. In particular, the guidance that any changes in licensing requirements should be followed by a review of the licences already issued is helpful. This is a good way of driving consistency and promoting safeguarding as, for example, some drivers may have been fit and proper under an old policy but not under a new policy.It would be helpful if the DfT could provide additional guidance on how licensing authorities should respond to complaints about a policy decision when concerns were not raised during the consultation process.
On licensing authorities’ resilience planning, the LGA’s view is that the majority of councils did continue to process licence applications throughout the pandemic, and this should be reflected in the guidance. There were some challenges during the pandemic, but in part this was due to some external factors, such as the challenges in gaining medical certificates. It is important that councils learn from the pandemic and incorporate lessons into resilience planning, but we believe this section could be more balanced and reflect the differing factors required to secure a licence.
Some councils have also expressed concern about the variation in standards for WAVs and feel the best practice guidance should specify what councils should look for in their WAVs, for example a Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER) certificate and the standard of trained technicians.
Enforcing the licensing regime
The LGA supports the recommendation to use mystery shoppers and already encourages councils to use this enforcement tool in our guidance. Councils have suggested they would like to use this tool more often but there are resource implications which limits how often mystery shoppers can be used, so there is a need to reflect that this tool may only be feasible where resources permit.
Joint authorisations are also a helpful enforcement tool which the LGA supports. However, joint authorised officers, without relevant Community Safety and Accreditation Scheme (CSAS) powers, do not have the ability to stop a vehicle which can limit the effectiveness of enforcement activity. The LGA would recommend that the DfT considers granting national enforcement powers to all licensing enforcement officers.
The LGA recognises that there are benefits to points-based enforcement systems. We are aware of several councils who use this approach and have found it a helpful way of improving driver compliance, ensuring consistency, making the best use of a licensing committee’s time, and implementing the fit and proper person test as it enables a licensing committee to review the history of a driver and make an informed decision. However, while we would encourage councils to consider adopting this approach, there may be alternative approaches that councils have found helpful to manage enforcement and may wish to continue to use. The important point is that councils do have a clear and outlined approach to enforcement.
The LGA supports the call for disability equality training to be mandatory for taxi and PHV drivers. We have encouraged councils to adopt this approach in our guidance, which also contains examples of good practice on this issue.
There are concerns about the practicalities of some of the more specific recommendations in this section. For example, it may be challenging for a small, rural licensing authority to encourage all of its drivers to learn British sign language without funding or the provision of British sign language tutors. The best practice guidance must recognise where some of its recommendations may be challenging to implement in specific circumstances.
It would be helpful if the guidance was clearer on the frequency of medicals. Whilst we think it is helpful to have a broad recommendation on the frequency of medicals, there may be a valid local reason to depart from this: for example, an area with a high number of drivers with health issues may require more frequent medical checks for safety reasons. It is important that councils can keep this flexibility.
The guidance recommends that licensing authorities consider the safety benefits to passengers, drivers and pedestrians of vehicles which have received a higher NCAP rating, given the benefits this could have in reducing injuries and fatalities. It would be helpful if the DfT provided licensing authorities with additional information on the NCAP scheme. Additionally, further clarity would be helpful in this section to improve consistency, for example recommending that only 4 or 5 star rated vehicles are licensed.
The guidance suggests that, in general, tinted windows should be permitted in taxis/PHVs. The LGA has concerns about the possible public safety implications of tinted windows. We are aware of several councils who try to take a preventative approach in their local areas by restricting the use of vehicles with tinted windows. Their view is that a more widespread use of tinted windows could impact on the public’s confidence to use taxis/PHVs and increase safeguarding risks in an area. Other councils expressed views that if tinted windows are to be permitted, it is important to have other safety measures, such as CCTV, in place.
Several councils would agree with the DfT’s assessment that the installation of CCTV has merits. For example, one council in the West Midlands which has a mandatory condition on CCTV in all taxis/PHVs said that the reaction to this condition has been positive from customers and drivers who feel safer, with drivers reporting the additional benefit that the number of false allegations made against them has decreased. However, some councils who have consulted on the installation of CCTV in vehicles have received representations from the taxi/PHV trade around the expense and practicalities of installing CCTV. Additionally, some councils have expressed concern that if CCTV is mandated, someone within the council has to be appointed as the CCTV data controller which is a significant responsibility.
Vehicle identification and signage is a complex issue. We agree that removing the ability of PHVs to have roof signs is a sensible recommendation, and we also welcome the recommendation to display a ‘pre booked door sticker’ as this plays an important role in demonstrating that the vehicle cannot be hired immediately. Some councils believe that displaying the livery of the operator the driver is working for is a helpful safety measure as it assists passengers with identifying the car they have booked. However, councils also recognise that a driver could work for more than one operator and therefore displaying livery on a car could impose a financial and administrative burden on the driver. Additionally, the recommendation for councils to try and not licence a PHV that is the same colour as its taxis is undermined by out of area working.
Again, many councils identified out of area working as a challenge in taking an environmentally friendly approach to licensing, if vehicles that are licensed by licensing authorities with lower standards routinely enter their area. Whilst councils recognise the importance of this work, many will want to take an incremental approach to avoid placing an unfair burden on drivers who are still recovering from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Quantity of restrictions outside London
The LGA agrees with the Department for Transport’s assessment that most councils do not have quantity restrictions in place. Our guidance encourages councils to consider the DfT’s view on quantity restrictions as set out in the existing best practice guidance, and that if the council intends to depart from that view by having quantity restrictions, the council states its reasons for doing so in its licensing policy.
More generally, many councils are reporting that they are still facing shortages of drivers following the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in the night-time economy, so this is likely to impact on quantity restrictions moving forwards.
Taxi ranks and roadside infrastructure
The best practice guidance suggests that taxi marshal schemes can be a good way of tackling anti-social behaviour at taxi ranks, and that such schemes can be jointly funded by the trade and councils. The LGA is aware of examples of where taxi marshal schemes have been funded through schemes to promote safety in the night-time economy, for example through a Business Improvement District. If there was no such scheme, it is likely that the costs for taxi marshals would be passed to taxi drivers through licensing fees, as there is limited alternative funding available for licensing authorities to jointly fund schemes, as described by the guidance.
Local transport plans and strategy
The guidance recommends that councils maintain a local transport plan, which sets out the authority’s transport policies over a given period. Whilst helpful, this section could be clearer about its specific expectations of licensing authorities.
It is helpful that this guidance highlights the new tax conditionality checks. Since the new requirements came into effect, LGA members have reported some issues around accessing the service and getting a driver’s ID set up, but the system now seems to be improving and we have had less issues raised by members in recent weeks.
However, some councils have reported a concern that the HMRC tax check portal does not have sufficient unique identifiers to avoid drivers sharing tax check codes. The LGA understands that the portal only asks drivers for a code and their date of birth. This is problematic when large numbers of drivers have the same date of birth – for example the LGA is aware of one West Midlands authority which has over 400 drivers with a 1/1/1980 birthday (which tends to be given to drivers who do not have a birth certificate). Councils have suggested more unique identifiers should be added to the portal.