Taxis to face tougher licensing regime in wake of child sex scandal in Rotherham

Rotherham
Rotherham

Taxis will face tougher licensing regimes amid concerns that current standards are undermining efforts to tackle child sexual exploitation in places like Rotherham, a transport minister has said.

John Hayes said the system 'is being gamed', given that taxis which fail to obtain licences in places with tight controls can get one elsewhere and operate in other areas.

His comments came after concerns were raised by Sheffield MP Clive Betts, chairman of the Communities and Local Government Select Committee, and shadow minister Cat Smith.

Mr Betts told MPS that some taxi drivers in Rotherham played a part in the child sexual exploitation scandal in Rotherham, where 1,400 children were abused by men of predominantly Pakistani heritage while authorities failed to act.

They used to transport children and abusers around the town.

In the wake of the scandal tougher controls were brought in, with taxi drivers in Rotherham ordered to install CCTV cameras, but Mr Betts said drivers licensed elsewhere could still drive into the town and would not be subject to the same rules.

Mt Betts said: "When the Communities and Local Government Select Committee looked at the issue of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham, one of the issues there was the involvement of some taxis and taxi drivers.

"The Government's own commissioners brought in higher standards, including the provision of CCTV cameras in all taxis.

"Those rules, however, can be undermined by taxis from outside Rotherham coming in which don't apply the same standards.

"Indeed, taxis which fail the test in Rotherham can go outside, get a licence and drive back into Rotherham.

"This is a real problem."

Transport minister Mr Hayes replied: "I think there's a case for new statutory guidance and, whilst I don't want to second-guess the working party and its recommendations that it may make to me, I think we'll issue some new statutory guidance early next year."

Ms Smith raised a similar point during Transport questions, saying: "Following these high-profile cases of child sexual abuse in Rotherham and Oxford, we saw the strengthening of taxi licensing in those council areas.

"Yet, despite repeated calls for the reform of legislation, including from the Law Commission, the Government have refused to close loopholes that allow drivers to be licensed elsewhere and effectively game the system.

"So will the minister now commit to introducing a national standard, to ensure safety across the industry?"

Mr Hayes replied: "She's right - I think the system is being gamed.

"I think where a local authority tightens - Leeds yesterday, as I said, described this to me - sometimes neighbouring local authorities adopt a more permissive regime.

"That can't be right and that's why I want to introduce new guidance and I want greater consistency in the way that the licences are issued.

"Really, at the end of the day, this has to be about public safety, security and well-being.

"The whole House would want that and we really do have to take action."