Councils shocked after finding taxi licensing processes were “particularly flawed”

Earlier this week it was reported that Bristol City Council is set to tighten up its criminal records checks on taxi drivers around the city after the system was found to be full of holes.

Internal auditors assessed Bristol City Council’s system for licensing drivers of taxis and private-hire vehicles in the wake of sexual abuse scandals in towns such as in Rotherham and Rochdale.

They found Bristol’s licensing process was particularly flawed when it came to checks via the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) to find out whether an applicant has a criminal record.

The council’s chief internal auditor Jonathan Idle ran through the weaknesses his team identified at an audit committee meeting on March 26.

Mr Idle said one of the chief concerns was the council’s lack of records showing whether DBS checks had taken place.

“At the time, DBS documentation was not retained, and so we could not provide the assurance that those DBS checks had been undertaken,” he said. “We couldn’t say they have, and we couldn’t say they hadn’t.”

The auditors were also worried by the number of temporary renewal licenses being issued while the council waited for background check information to arrive. Temporary licenses undermine the controls that are in place to protect the public, yet their number rose significantly last year.

The auditors also found that enhanced DBS checks were not being requested often enough to ensure the licensing committee had up-to-date information about an applicant’s criminal convictions, he said.

There was also no assurance that checks performed on DBS documents were accurate or that DBS details were recorded accurately.

And there was not enough control over the issuing of duplicate licenses, where originals are lost by the license holder, or over the stationery used to produce taxi license plates and taxi driver badges.

Mr Idle said his team made nine recommendations to address the problems, all of which will be put in place.

“Members are aware of the potential adverse implications for local authorities when taxi licensing operations do not work effectively,” he said, citing Rotherham and Rochdale.

The licensing assessment was carried out after the Department for Transport (DfT) published a report in September 2018 containing 34 recommendations to make the licensing of taxi and private hire vehicles safer and more robust.

The report was produced in response to government ministers’ concerns the current regulatory regime for taxi and private hire vehicle drivers is no longer fit for purpose.

Last month, the DfT launched a consultation on new licensing guidelines to better protect passengers.

Ideas include the compulsory installation of CCTV cameras in all taxis and a national licensing database to stop a driver banned from operating on one area of the country simply moving to another where checks are more lenient.

Labour councillor for Easton, Afzal Shah, said Bristol-licensed taxis were “in the minority” in the city now. He asked whether the council was working closely enough with neighbouring authorities to manage the risks associated with taxi drivers licensed outside of Bristol.

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