Rotherham taxi drivers have been warned demonstrations against contentious new licensing laws designed to combat child sexual exploitation will prove ‘counter-productive’.
Council leader Chris Read said the new measures are designed to restore public confidence in the town’s taxi trade after it was implicated - along with the council and the police - in the grooming scandal.
It comes as unhappy drivers took action this week in a last-ditch bid to stop the currently-proposed measures, which include installing CCTV in all taxis, going through.
Coun Read said: “We need to ensure that the service is safe, and that members of the public are able to start rebuilding their trust and confidence in the local taxi industry.
“Any level of disruption to the public is therefore regrettable and likely to prove counter-productive in this regard.
“The new policy - developed after months of consultation - is an important step towards ensuring the highest standards.”
Mr Read’s comments come ahead of a meeting between council bosses and taxi drivers on Monday to discuss the ‘finer detail’ of the new policy as it comes into force.
Drivers will be expected to install CCTV in their vehicles and pass a ‘fit and proper’ person test, as well as meeting new standards on the condition and age of their vehicles.
Licence holders will need to have a BTEC qualification and a satisfactory level of English.
Rotherham Council say the measures will improve the reputation of the town’s taxi trade after it was linked to the grooming scandal.
The shake-up affecting 1,200 registered drivers comes after the Jay report revealed the ‘prominent role’ of Rotherham taxi drivers in the abuse of children, while the follow-up Casey inquiry said Rotherham Council needed to ‘get their house in order and regulate taxis effectively’ due to the ‘well-publicised link between taxis and child sexual exploitation in Rotherham that has cast a long shadow over the vast majority of law-abiding drivers’.
But more than 100 angry drivers protested outside Rotherham Town Hall earlier this week, with an informal strike involving dozens taking part in ‘go-slow’ drives through town.
Drivers say they are concerned at the potential costs of installing, maintaining and repairing the cameras, which the council say drivers should be able to hire for £5 per week or less.
Those protesting also claim they are being made ‘scapegoats’ for the grooming scandal.
Commissioner Mary Ney, who has responsibility for the council’s licensing function, said: “We have been having ongoing discussions with representatives of the trade throughout the process of drafting this new policy and have met all of their previous requests for meetings.
“We have made numerous changes in direct response to what they have told us, relating to the age and colour of vehicles for example, and we are due to meet with representatives again to discuss the finer detail of how we put the scheme in place.
“We have and will continue to listen to the views of taxi drivers – as well as all other sections of the community.
“Many people are in support of these changes, but we accept not everyone is happy. However, the fact remains that in Rotherham we need to enforce robust and high standards to make sure people feel safe using local taxis, and to ultimately re-build trust and confidence in an industry which employs many local people.”