LGA PRESS RELEASE 3 FEBRUARY 2015
Vital efforts to protect children from criminals hiding behind their position as taxi drivers to commit sex offences are being hampered by new restrictions on crucial background checks, councils warn.
The Local Government Association said police forces across the country are no longer providing information to councils on criminal investigations involving prospective taxi drivers because of a dispute between the Home Office and police on whether it is lawful.
Some councils have also been told by the Disclosure and Barring Service that they can no longer check whether a prospective taxi driver has been barred from working with children or vulnerable adults unless they work on a school transport contract.
It comes as government’s plans to extend the duration of taxi licences from one to three years will return to Parliament today as part of the Deregulation Bill.
The LGA is warning that forcing councils to issue longer licences without access to vital intelligence on applicants could put children and vulnerable people at greater risk of becoming victims of sex crimes, child sexual exploitation (CSE) and trafficking from organised gangs.
It is calling for the clauses in the Deregulation Bill to be deleted and a comprehensive reform of taxi and private hire vehicle licensing undertaken, based on the Law Commission’s report last year.
The LGA also demands a guarantee from the Department of Transport and the Home Office that access to this vital information will be immediately returned and maintained in the future, without risk of it being removed again.
Cllr Ann Lucas OBE, Chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: “Extending the length of taxi licences without ensuring councils can keep carrying out robust checks risks putting children and vulnerable people at risk.
“Recent child sex abuse cases in Rotherham and Rochdale are a stark reminder of the vulnerability of some passengers.
“CSE is a terrible crime with destructive and far reaching consequences for victims, their families, and society and councils are determined that nothing like this can be allowed to happen again. That is why we are extremely alarmed at actually being given less access to information about who is applying for a taxi licence.
“Taxi drivers routinely work with vulnerable adults and children as part of their daily work, regardless of whether they have a school contract or not. It is imperative that councils can keep checking applicants against barred lists and be able to find out if they are under criminal investigation.
“The consequence could be councils unknowingly granting licences to people investigated for sexual offences and only finding out three years later when the driver renews the licence and has the conviction flagged up.
“As we know, the consequences for someone entering a taxi where the driver has not been adequately vetted by the council can be devastating. We should not be doing anything that increases the chances of that happening