More than 700 Sheffield taxi drivers have licences issued to them by councils hundreds of miles away sparking concerns over safety and welfare.
The can reveal 414 Sheffield drivers have licences issued to them by Rossendale Borough Council in Lancashire - nearly two hours drive away.
Others have been issued by authorities as far away as London and Anglesey in Wales.
Sheffield operates stringent tests for drivers to obtain a private hire licence and it's feared those with criminal records or poor standards of English and general knowledge are operating in the city because of a loophole in the law.
Worried MPs, the council and taxi representatives today demanded a change in the law after it was revealed more than 700 drivers with city addresses have had licences issued by councils other than Sheffield.
Sheffield taxi driver Ibrar Hussain, a GMB union rep, said he was ‘shocked’ 53 drivers living in Sheffield have taxi licences issued to them by Transport for London and seven from the Isle of Anglesey in Wales – more than three hours drive away.
A further 414 have licences issued by Rossendale, 131 by North East Derbyshire, 97 by Bolsover, 34 by Wakefield, 17 by High Peak, 13 by Leeds and six by Gedling in Nottinghamshire.
Coun Bryan Lodge, cabinet member for environment at Sheffield Council, said drivers who had been refused a licence in Sheffield or had it revoked were ‘simply obtaining a licence from other local authorities and then coming back and working in Sheffield’.
Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield said the ‘rule allows taxi drivers to shop around for the most easy-going regime and get their licence there’.
Now the council and MPs are lobbying the government and meeting with the minister in charge to demand action to end the deregulation loophole.
Mr Hussain said the question needed to be asked why some taxi drivers living in Sheffield have had to go to places as far away as Wales to get a licence.
“What we’re seeing in Sheffield is licensed cars from London, Rossendale, Wakefield, Leeds, Anglesey in Wales, Bolsover and High Peak,” he said.
“I drive a taxi, I live in Sheffield, why on earth would I travel further a field to get a licence when I can get one where I live and do the same job with the same firm?
“It’s two things for me. One is they might have failed the test you needed to pass in Sheffield – it’s not rocket science but you need to work at it. They might not speak proper English, communication is vital.
“If you have a heart attack in the back of their taxi what happens then? The second is one of criminality. They might have been refused in Sheffield because of a conviction through the courts.
“We must make sure that we protect the public properly regardless if it’s a man, woman or a child, day or night. That is number one priority, it has to be.
“What were asking is the Deregulation Act to change the clause on sub contracting so that only Sheffield licensed drivers and vehicles work within the area to protect the people and to take out the vulnerability because its safety issue here.
“We don’t know who is working, who they’re working from, what checks they’ve had what checks they haven’t had.
“We want nationally is a proper review of the taxi laws to bring up to date and make sure that we have high standards and the same standards everywhere.
“What I’m saying is, If you want a private hire car in Sheffield make sure the one you request is a Sheffield licensed car that comes and picks you up because they’ll be properly checked and will have passed stringent tests – that is the message.
“Sheffield Council has listened to us on this and we’re grateful, they’ve been very good at working with us at GMB surrounding licensing conditions for private hire operators and City Taxis have supported that as well.”
A spokesman for Rossendale Borough Council admitted it had lower standards than other councils but said it was now taking steps to improve: “Historically, Rossendale did not have a basic skills assessment in place for taxi drivers,” he said.
“A basic skills assessment is now in place for all new driver applicants, and a knowledge test plus safeguarding training is to be introduced alongside this shortly. We recently reviewed our policies and introduced a new 30-mile radius for new applications to our Intended Use Policy.
“The council is currently reviewing its taxi policies again and expects a number of further changes to be introduced in the near future.”
The spokesman added the number of people coming from outside the area to gain a licence has ‘fallen dramatically’ and denied the council did not run criminal records checks on new applicants.
Sheffield Coun Bryan Lodge said: “We are extremely concerned that Government deregulation is affecting the high standards we are trying to achieve in taxi licensing in Sheffield. Some taxi drivers who have had their licences refused or revoked by our Licensing Committee are simply obtaining a licence from other local authorities and then coming back and working in Sheffield.
“The Chief Licensing Officer and Head of Licensing, Steve Lonnia, has written to the Minister for Transport and to Professor Alexis Jay OBE, who is leading the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation, to outline the council’s concerns that deregulation is undermining our powers to promote public safety and our ability to safeguard children and the vulnerable in many areas of licensing.
“In Sheffield we are proud of our track record in relation to licensing and the high standards we set those who wish to become a licensed driver.
“All applicants must complete a BTEC course, be DBS checked, undertake an advanced driving test and a medical examination. Unfortunately these standards are not consistent across the country meaning that people who fail to receive a license in Sheffield often go elsewhere.
“We will continue to work with our local MPs to make our views known about this issue. We want to ensure that the people of Sheffield are satisfied that we undertake all possible checks to ensure that individuals are fit and proper to hold a licence and will continue working with the local taxi trade to maintain those high standards.”
South Yorkshire MPs have met to discuss the concerns and have secured a meeting with Andrew Jones, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport on the issue.
MP Paul Blomfield said: “I’m deeply concerned about the impact of the Government’s changes to the law.
“Local councils’ role in licensing taxis is key to public safety. The new rule allows taxi drivers to shop around for the most easy-going regime and get their licence there.
“It puts ideology before common sense and pulls the rug from under the feet of councils like Sheffield who maintain high standards.
“Our taxis drivers work closely with the council on these issues and they’re worried too.”
Sheffield Heeley MP Louise Haigh said she and her fellow South Yorkshire MPs had challenged to Government to ‘think again’ on the issue.
“Sheffield and other South Yorkshire authorities have implemented taxi licensing policies specifically to protect young adults and children in our area.
“However this is being completely undermined by the Government’s deregulation, which means that drivers can get licensed anywhere else in the country – at much lower standards and cost than the regime we have here – and still operate in South Yorkshire.
“The consequence is that drivers who have been turned down for licences here, for very good reason, continue to operate potentially putting children and young adults at risk.
“The Government must act, we rightly have tough licensing laws here in Sheffield and the public back us on that, but as it stands another authority in another part of the country can ride roughshod over us.
“I’ll be meeting the Minister next month alongside the GMB trade union and Sheffield’s Chief Licensing Officer to discuss what can be done to uphold our licensing standards.”
Rossendale – 414
North East Derbyshire – 131
Bolsover – 97
Transport for London – 53
Wakefield – 34
High Peak (Buxton) – 17
Leeds – 13
Anglesey (Wales) – 7
Gedling (Nottinghamshire) – 6