Rotherham councillors back controversial new licensing laws for taxi drivers

Rotherham taxi drivers protested outside Rotherham Town Hall as council approves plans for tougher licensing laws.
Rotherham taxi drivers protested outside Rotherham Town Hall as council approves plans for tougher licensing laws.

Councillors have backed tougher new licensing measures for Rotherham taxi drivers - including putting CCTV in all cabs - despite the implementation of the measures being delayed.

The policy had already been approved by Commissioner Mary Ney, but was supported almost unanimously at a full meeting of Rotherham Council this afternoon.

It had originally been announced the policy changes would come into place from the start of this week, with drivers being required to fit CCTV into their vehicles within three months at their own cost.

But following an angry reaction from many drivers, including around 100 taking part in a protest outside the Town Hall and dozens participating in ‘go-slow’ drives around town, a further meeting was held on Monday with officials from the Rotherham Private Hire Drivers Association.

It was announced prior to the council meeting that more time will be granted to arrange issues such as the timescale for the introduction of CCTV.

The new licensing policy also includes measures such as requiring drivers to pass a ‘fit and proper’ persons test and a requirement to have a BTEC qualification.

In addition, every driver will also be given training on how to spot the signs of child sexual exploitation.

Drivers have said they are concerned about the potential costs of the changes and feel they are being made ‘scapegoats’ for the grooming scandal.

The shake-up has been made in direct response to concerns being raised about the role of taxi drivers in the town’s grooming scandal.

The only councillor to abstain from voting to note the already-approved policy was Councillor Shaukat Ali, one of four current and former Labour councillors suspended by the party last year in the wake of the Jay report.

He was critical of the way the council has handled communications with drivers over the ‘very sensitive’ issue and called for improved ‘race relations’ in future.

Coun Ali said: “It is an embarrassment the way this has been handled.”

His comments were applauded by taxi drivers’ representatives in the public gallery.

But other councillors were supportive of the move.

Coun Brian Steele said the changes were being made to ‘protect the most vulnerable in society’ and added CCTV could protect drivers from false allegations.

Coun Caven Vines added: “I would like to congratulate Commissioner Ney for having the backbone and guts to take this on. It is welcomed by 95 per cent of the public of Rotherham.”

Councillor Emma Wallis said ‘embryonic conversations’ are taking place with other councils about the possibility of extending the new licensing regulations across South Yorkshire.

“Everyone is aware that local authority boundaries are only lines on a map,” she said.