Tim Briton, LLG's National Lead Licensing & Litigation Officer, sets out some of the work being in done in the North East in relation to safeguarding and taxi licensing.
The importance of the role of licensing in safeguarding vulnerable children and adults has been highlighted by recent events in Rotherham, Rochdale and Oxford. Many councils around England and Wales are now reviewing their policies and taking them back to first principles, so they can make best use of the powers they have to protect the public.
An example of this work is the compulsory safeguarding training that commences this week for the drivers of Hackney Carriages and Private Hire Vehicles and Private Hire Operators licensed by Gateshead Council.
All new applicants and all existing licensees on renewal will be obliged to attend training, which is being delivered by Northumbria Police and Gateshead’s Local Safeguarding Children Board with input from the trade in terms of practicalities, to make sure that they are aware of the signs of Child Sexual Exploitation and who to contact when they have suspicions.
Gateshead Council is working closely with the North East’s other 11 councils and the three Police Forces to ensure that a consistent standard of safeguarding awareness is achieved regionally.
The training supports the joint Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy adopted by the region’s three Police & Crime Commissioners, which states: “We will continue to expand our safeguarding training for personnel working in the night-time economy so as to keep vulnerable people safer."
The PCCs’ Strategy emphasises the need for a clear understanding that trafficking is itself a serious crime: “In connection with recent child sexual abuse cases, children have been moved from place to place in a vehicle to facilitate the commission of sexual offences contrary to Section 58 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003.”
Anneliese Hutchinson, who is the chair of the North East Public Protection Partnership, has said: “Helping to keep vulnerable people safe is everyone’s business. Taxi drivers’ work brings them into daily contact with people across Gateshead who may be at risk of harm. We are not expecting them to make the decision on whether a child is at risk, but we do want to help them to be confident on what to report and who to report to.”
It is important that the legal aspects are emphasised as well as their moral and social responsibilities. Drivers may face up to 14 years in prison if they intentionally arrange or facilitate travel believing that during or after the journey the passenger will be the subject of sexual offence.
It remains to be seen whether the substantive proposals from the Law Commission’s May 2014 report on Taxi and Private Hire Services will be taken forward in this Parliament, so the meantime it is incumbent on local government licensing lawyers to help make the most of the legislation as it stands, so that Hackney Carriage and Private Hire services can be made safer for both passengers and drivers.
The Joint Police & Crime Commissioners’ Violence Against Women & Girls Strategy can be viewed here.