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Agenda Item No.

 

THE VALE OF GLAMORGAN COUNCIL

 

LICENSING COMMITTEE: 30TH MAY, 2012

 

REFERENCE FROM SCRUTINY COMMITTEE (HOUSING AND PUBLIC PROTECTION): 14TH MARCH, 2012

 

 

“981    REQUEST FOR CONSIDERATION - IMPROVING SECURITY FOR HACKNEY AND PRIVATE HIRE LICENCES -

 

Councillor R.J. Bertin had submitted the following Request for Consideration in respect of the following:

 

“Given a terrorist involved in a London bomb plot was investigated for posing as a taxi driver in Wales and that the Police were involved due to concern over the use of fake ID, I would like to receive a report from both the Police and our Officers on how security has since been improved for the issue of hackney carriage and private hire licences.

 

Police have identified a number of security threats in the Vale including Dow Corning and Aberthaw Power Station where such fake ID could be used to gain access.  We have an important role in preventing terrorism and we must ensure that we are doing all we can to do so including improving security on taxi driver’s licence issue.

 

Can you therefore inform us what steps have been taken to improve security and also inform us how many such licences under our authority have been found to be fraudulent and what has been done about this?

 

Furthermore, can a representative of the taxi operators also come along and also give evidence at this meeting?”

 

Further to the above matter Councillor Bertin had submitted his apologies as he was unable to attend the meeting due to ill health but submitted the following four questions to be addressed by Council officers and the Police representative:

 

“Question 1 - Was the person in question operating in the Vale of Glamorgan area?

 

Question 2 - If so, were the Police satisfied that security was not compromised in any way?

 

Question 3 - Were the Police now satisfied with the security of the Council’s Hackney and Private Hire licensing service?

 

Question 4 - Have we considered using “Verifeye” technology which took a picture of the person’s eye to improve security?”

 

The Director of Legal, Public Protection and Housing Services had submitted a report on Licensing Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Vehicle Drivers which was agendaed for consideration by the Committee.  In commenting on the comprehensive report the Principal Regulatory Services Officer, in anticipation of questions on the above matter, drew the Committee’s attention to recent reports covered by the national and local media of two Cardiff brothers who were imprisoned for planning terrorism attacks on the London Stock Exchange.  In referring to the first question received from Councillor Bertin, she confirmed that one of the two brothers was in fact subject to a report to the Licensing Committee in June 2011 following attempts of that individual to renew his drivers licence in September 2010 under what was now known as a false identity with that individual being licensed as a driver in the Vale of Glamorgan for the previous 12 months.  The discovery of the false identity had been as a direct consequence of Vale Council licensing officers not being satisfied with information provided by the individual when the renewal of his driver licence was attempted and due to their alertness immediately contacted South Wales Police whereupon he was arrested and his true identity established.  The Principal Officer reminded the Committee that officers had attended anti terrorism training in 2009 and this she believed provided confidence on the part of officers to challenge applications during the licensing process.  The Council had a responsibility for licensing taxi drivers which powers had been delegated to the Licensing Committee.  The powers and requirement for such drivers to be licensed were set out in the relevant legislation.  The Principal Officer also pointed out that there were certain criteria that must be met in law before a person could be granted a Hackney Carriage or Private Hire Vehicle driver’s licence which related to the individual being a “fit and proper person” to hold such driver’s licence and must have held a DVLA driver’s licence for at least 12 months prior to the date of their application.  This was the extent which the law provided for.  In addition the requirement to hold a licence for 12 months was relatively straightforward, however, establishing the fitness and proprietary of an individual was a matter for the local licensing authority.  Consequently, in the Vale of Glamorgan there were currently three criteria used for determining fitness and proprietary, namely:

 

·                    pass combined English / knowledge test

·                    valid Group 2 medical

·                    CRB check at three yearly intervals.

 

As a point of interest for the Scrutiny Committee the Principal Officer indicated that the Council’s officers were currently consulting on proposals to introduce driver DSA tests as a requirement and latterly, on 20th March 2012, the Licensing Committee would be considering a report on matters relating to right to work within the UK.  Reference was also made to the process for obtaining a CRB including the prescriptive list of documents where applicants were required to provide to prove their identity.  She referred to the onus of proof being on the applicant to provide the necessary information and where this was not provided applications did not progress.  It was also stressed that licensing officers were continually vigilant to identify fraudulent activity by applicants, however they were not experts in identifying fraudulent documents.  To the best of her knowledge she could only recall one further instance in 2002 where identification fraud had been used to obtain a Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Vehicle driver’s licence. 

 

The Principal Officer’s attention then turned to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exemptions) Order 1975 which meant that all convictions whether spent or not could be taken into account when determining such applications by the licensing authority.  In addition she also referred to the Department of Transport Best Practice Guide which stated that “a criminal record check was an important safety measure and was widely required”.  This requirement did not extend to requirement by law however, to the best of her knowledge the Council had not previously granted a “new” driver’s licence without a report from the CRB or Certificate of Good Conduct from the applicant’s Embassy.  The Council had adopted a Policy on the Treatment of Convictions, Cautions and Charges when determining such licences.  This Policy provided guidance for applicants, officers and members of the Licensing Committee, details of which were appended to the report.  In conclusion she referred to the remit of the Council’s Licensing Committee and the role of officers in making recommendations to the Committee.  She reminded the Committee from time to time applicants provided the Committee with information which meant that the Committee’s decision did not always run in line with the officer’s recommendation with the Committee considering every case on its individual merits and it was right and proper that they did so.  Unfortunately however, there were individuals who would attempt to circumvent the process and licensing officers would continue to be vigilant in all matters relating to proof of identity.  Notwithstanding this, she indicated that she was happy to consider any suggestions for improvement to existing arrangements put forward by the Scrutiny Committee. In addressing Question 4 as submitted by Councillor Bertin, she indicated that the use of “Verifeye” technology had not been considered by the Council for its introduction given that it had not been referred to in the Good Practice Guide and she was also unaware of the use of such technology by other Local Authorities.

 

The Chairman then invited Inspector Winslade-Gregory to address the Committee on Councillor Bertin’s Request for Consideration and invited him to comment on questions 2 and 4 as submitted by Councillor Bertin. 

 

Inspector Winslade-Gregory thanked the Committee for the invitation to address them on the above matter and referred to Question 2 as submitted by Councillor Bertin.  He indicated that he was extremely satisfied with the conduct of the Council’s licensing officers and that they were vigilant and confident in undertaking their role which he believed was a direct consequence of the training received from the Counter Terrorism Unit on related matters.  Indeed, he indicated that it was testament to licensing officers that the matter under consideration by the Scrutiny Committee at the meeting was as a result of the training received with the result of individuals being apprehended.  He also considered the very good partnership working that was ongoing between Council officers and the Police and that this partnership was preventing harm and assisting the country in preventing terrorism activity.  In referring to current working practices, he considered these to be up to date and effective.  He also stressed the importance that when new staff joined the Licensing Committee it was important that they received appropriate induction training on matters relating to anti terrorism.

 

In commenting on Question 2 submitted by Councillor Bertin, Inspector Winslade-Gregory indicated that given such matters were confidential by their very nature and it was inappropriate to provide a response at the Committee. In turning his attention to Question 3, he indicated that he was satisfied with the Council’s arrangements to deal with Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Vehicle licensing. 

 

The Chairman welcomed Mr. Thomas, Secretary of the Vale of Glamorgan Taxi Association to comment on the issue under consideration. 

 

Mr. Thomas, in thanking the Scrutiny Committee for the invitation to attend the meeting, referred to a recent decision of the Licensing Committee to grant a driver’s licence without a current CRB being obtained and referred to the Council’s Licensing Policy criteria.  The Chairman at this point intervened in the proceedings and drew Mr. Thomas’ attention to the remit of the Scrutiny Committee insofar that it could only consider issues relating to policy and could not comment or intervene on the Licensing Committees determination of an individual application.  She invited Councillor J.W. Thomas to comment on the matter given that he was also the Chairman of the Licensing Committee.  Councillor Thomas referred to a previous meeting with the Vale of Glamorgan Taxi Association where, at that time, all matters relating to the application concerned were explained in detail to the Association representatives.  The concerns expressed would be borne in mind by the Licensing Committee in the future.  In response Mr. Thomas requested that the Council’s Licensing Committee in the future give more weight to officers’ recommendations prior to the granting of any application in such circumstances.  The Principal Officer reassured the Scrutiny Committee that the Licensing Committee had never issued a driver’s licence on a “new” grant without a current CRB in place and the matter alluded by Mr. S. Thomas related to a “renewal” of a driver’s licence with that individual previously holding a satisfactory CRB check. 

 

Councillor N. Hodges referred to existing policy and procedures and expressed disquiet at the Licensing Committee’s previous decision to grant a driver’s licence without the presence of a current CRB.  Whilst acknowledging that the Licensing Committee had discretion to consider every case on its own merits, he referred to best practice and considered that consideration of an application could not be given adequate weighting without the availability of all relevant information in his opinion.  He also urged the Licensing Committee in the future to delay the approval of any such applications until the appropriated CRB check had been obtained. 

 

Having considered the above and the contents of the report, it was

 

RECOMMENDED - T H A T the Council’s Licensing Committee give more weight to officer recommendations in their deliberations when they consider any applications for a Hackney Carriage or Private Hire Vehicle licence when a current CRB was not in place. 

 

Reason for recommendation

 

To ensure that the protection of the public was at the forefront of the Licensing Committee’s deliberations when considering such applications.”

 

 

 

 

Attached as Appendix – Report to Scrutiny Committee (Housing and Public Protection): 14th March, 2012