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Children at risk because of ‘deeply concerning’ DCLG stance in Rotherham taxi fears

Children and vulnerable adults are at risk of exploitation because of the government’s failure to adopt a recommendation on taxi licensing, the Communities and Local Government Committee (CLGC) has said.

Back in August, as part of its report into the success of government interventions into Rotherham and Tower Hamlets councils, the CLGC said it was a concern that taxis licensed in other areas could operate within a council’s remit without the same regulations the council applied to its own taxis.

Responding to the report today, the DCLG claimed it “strongly agreed” with a recommendation for further legislation regarding taxi licensing, but did not commit to monitoring the effectiveness of the reforms, or introducing further legislation if needed.

In response, Clive Betts MP, chair of the CLGC, said: “Children and vulnerable adults will remain at risk in Rotherham for as long as the local authority's tough new licensing rules can be undermined by taxis from other areas.

“The government must monitor the new statutory guidance for taxi licensing when it is introduced to see that it not only ensures consistently high standards across the country but also enables local authorities to put in place and enforce specific measures appropriate for their areas.

“If the guidance fails in this regard, then the government should legislate. The reluctance of ministers to commit to either of these actions is deeply concerning.”

Last year, Rotherham Council was found ‘not fit for purpose’ over its handling of sexual exploitation involving at least 1,400 children.

A small number of taxi drivers were involved in the exploitation, pushing the council, under control of government commissioners, to introduce more stringent licensing requirements – such as mandatory CCTV in taxis – as part of the reforms since then.

Sir Derek Myers, lead commissioner for Rotherham, also recently recommended restoring taxi licensing powers to the council because of the safety improvements.

However, the CLGC called it a “significant loophole” that taxis licensed in other areas, which were not subject to the requirements, were able to operate in Rotherham.

It argued the DCLG, the Home Office and the Department for Transport should include legislation on the issue in the new Policing and Crime Bill to show that lessons had been learned from Rotherham.

The DCLG agreed to do this, despite rejecting the recommendation to monitor the impact of the new legislation.

It also adopted the majority of the CLGC report’s other recommendations, including legislation to place government commissioners on the list of prescribed persons in the Public Interest Disclosure (Prescribed Persons) Order 2014.

This would mean that, if an authority is found to be so troubled that it is taken over by commissioners, it would then be easier for whistleblowers to approach the commissioners. Betts welcomed the “swift action and positive response” from the government in this regard.

The committee also asked the DCLG to provide a broad indication of the number of local authorities who were receiving enhanced monitoring or were at risk of intervention at two dates this year – 29 February and 31 August.

But the department said there were councils “at any time” who it was keeping an eye on, and publishing the number did not “give much of an indication of the health of the sector”.

It added that it was not aware of any local authorities whose situation was “so severe as to warrant an intervention” at either of those dates.

(Image c. Lynne Cameron from PA Wire)

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