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Contact: Luciane Bowker Democratic & Electoral Services Specialist
To receive any apologies for absence.
Apologies for absence were submitted from Councillor Parry Batth and Suzanne McLaughlin.
To confirm the Minutes of the Meeting held on 28 January 2020.
The Minutes of the meeting of the Committee held on 28 January 2020 were confirmed as a correct record and would be signed by the Chairman at a later date.
Councillor Burgess asked if letter about Uber, referred to on page 5, had been sent. Julia O’Brien, Principal Officer Compliance and Enforcement confirmed that the letter had been sent but no response had been received. Councillor Burgess asked that this response be chased up and Julia O’Brien agreed to follow this up.
Declaration of Interest
To receive any declarations of interest.
There were no declarations of interest.
Public Question Time
To answer any public questions
A period of 30 minutes will be allowed for members of the public to ask questions submitted under notice.
The Council welcomes questions from members of the public about the work of this committee.
Subject to meeting certain timescales, questions can relate to general issues concerned with the work of the Committee or an item which is on the Agenda for this meeting. For full details of the procedure for submitting questions please contact the Democratic Services Section on the numbers given below or go to www.wokingham.gov.uk/publicquestions
There were no public questions.
Member Question Time
To answer any member questions
There were no Member questions.
To consider a report outlining the proposed fees and charges for the 2021/22 municipal year.
This item was deferred to the next meeting of the Committee, on 10 November 2020.
To receive and consider the Statutory and Private Hire Report.
Julia O’Brien, Principal Officer Compliance and Enforcement presented the Statutory Taxi and Private Hire report.
Julia O’Brien stated that this guidance was an attempt by the government to standardise vehicle, driver and operator’s standards. She explained that although this was ‘guidance’, local authorities must have regard to it.
Julia O’Brien stated it was proposed that the Licensing Committee look at further reports detailing changes to conditions contained in the Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Policy and School and Community Services Policy to comply with statutory standards. She pointed out that the current policies already incorporated a lot of the conditions that local authorities were being commended to adhere to.
During the discussion of the item the following comments were made:
· Councillor Burgess was interested to know if there were any areas which needed improvement and suggested that future reports could include Red Amber Green (RAG) rating. She also asked if there would be cost implications to drivers as a result of this review;
· Julia O’Brien stated that there may be a cost in relation to Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks, as drivers would be asked to sign up to the DBS update service. However, this may work out cheaper than having to do a DBS check every year;
· Councillor Kerr agreed that it would be useful to be informed of any potential gaps or areas for improvement. She asked for further clarification as to whether this government paper was statutory or guidance;
· Julia O’Brien stated that although this was guidance, local authorities were being told that they should comply with it;
· Councillor Kerr asked about the timescales in implementing the changes. Julia O’Brien stated that a wide consultation would have to be carried out, and she hoped to be able to present a report to the March meeting of the Committee;
· In response to a question Sean Murphy, Public Protection Partnership Manager stated that these policies would be approved by this Committee (not by Executive or Council);
· In response to a question Julia O’Brien stated that following all the processes, including the consultation, the final policies were likely to be ready by the summer of 2021;
· Councillor Fishwick asked how the service would obtain certificates of good character. Julia O’Brien stated that this was already in the current policy, the service asked for drivers to approach the embassy of the place where they had been away from the country for three months, and they were able provided this certificate to the service;
· Councillor Soane asked for more information about the regulations around stretched limousines. Julia O’Brien stated that stretched limousines were already in the policy and they were treated in the same way as private hire.
Upon being put to the vote, Members agreed to the recommendations contained in the report.
1) Members note the content of the statutory standards; and
2) Members agree to further reports detailing changes to conditions contained in the Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Policy and School and Community Services Policy to ... view the full minutes text for item 7.
Taxis Liaison Group Update
To consider a report giving an update on the work of the Taxis Liaison Group.
The Taxis Liaison Group Update report was presented by Karen Court, Senior Licensing Officer Public Protection Partnership.
Karen Court stated that the last meeting of the Group had taken place on 10 September 2020, and was attended by three Members of the Licensing and Appeals Committee and two members of the taxi trade.
Karen Court stated that the main points of discussion at the last meeting were:
· Fees – there had been an agreement to reduce the fees and this had already been implemented. There were no further proposals on fees. The audit exercise was being arranged by Sean Murphy.
· Age of vehicles – the Committee was being asked to consider temporarily suspending the current age limits on vehicles. It was suggested that this period be of 12 months with a defined start and end time, provided that the vehicles passed the hackney carriage and private hire vehicle test in addition to the standard MOT test and RAC test for older vehicles;
· Height of vehicles – the condition of height had been imposed to ensure compliance with Section 165 of the Equality Act 2010 (passengers on wheelchairs), it was not recommended that the Committee put forward any proposal to amend these dimensions;
· Taxi ranks – the service was working with Traffic Management. Traffic Management had confirmed that the Broad Street ranks were operational from 19 September 2020, this included the rank outside Natwest Bank and the two west of the bus stops. Additionally, there would be two new temporary evening ranks in Wokingham Market Place on the loading bays outside Boots and WH Smith. Drivers were being advised and kept up to date with information about the ranks and the situation in relation to Covid-19.
The Chairman stated that the taxi trade was facing significant difficulties at the moment due to the current pandemic, with loss of business and competition with Uber. It was the Council’s intention to help the trade as much as possible during this difficult time.
Some of the comments made during the discussion of the item are listed below.
· Councillor Burgess believed that it was disingenuous to say that there were no proposals from the drivers in relation to fees. She believed that the onus was on the Council to produce a line by line audit report on the methodology;
· Sean Murphy clarified that this was in relation to the tariffs that drives charged for their services;
· In response to a question Karen Court stated that two dates to review the fees had been proposed to the trade;
· Councillor Ferris asked if this Committee would be considering a reduction in fees during the pandemic period. Sean Murphy stated that the fees would be discussed at the meeting in November, including options around reductions (which could be applied retrospectively);
· Sean Murphy confirmed that the reductions that were agreed last year had been implemented retrospectively;
· Councillor Ferris urged the Committee to consider the fact that during the pandemic, the trade had seen its business reduced to 10-15% ... view the full minutes text for item 8.
To consider a report containing an overview of the activity undertaken by the Service in 2019/20.
The Annual Report 2019/20 was presented by Julia O’Brien.
Julia O’Brien stated that the report contained an overview of the work of the Licensing Service and the Licensing and Appeals Committee and Sub-Committee over the last year. The report also contained comparative data in relation to the number of applications.
In response to a question, Sean Murphy stated that animal boarders had been badly affected by the pandemic, the fees for that sector would be reviewed at the next meeting of the Committee.
Councillor Burgess stated that the report did not reflect a number of issues within Licensing that had occurred during the past year, which were not mentioned in the report. She expressed frustration that the meeting in June had been cancelled due lack of business, when in her opinion there were issued that should have been discussed. She stated that the taxi trade felt continually let down by Licensing and this Committee. She believed that the Committee should have been reviewing measures to help the trade, in the context of the pandemic, much earlier; some drivers were already considering giving up or had already given up their licences.
Councillor Burgess expressed frustration that the Criteria Policy for Licensed Vehicles was reviewed in June 2018, agreed in September 2018 but was not published until July this year, despites many requests that it be published. She also mentioned issues around animal boarders’ fees.
Councillor Burgess recognised that some good work had been undertaken, for example in raising standards.
The Chairman pointed out that the Council had helped many businesses during the pandemic, and that the taxis’ fees had been reduced in the past year.
Councillor Richards observed huge variations in the number of applications this year and last year, he asked if these were new applications or renewals. Julia O’Brien stated that the figures represented a mixture of new and renewal applications.
Sean Murphy offered to review the figures, including the number of licences that were lost due to Covid-19, and present it to the Committee at its next meeting.
Councillor Kerr was interested to know the narrative behind the complaints listed in the report, and how many were complaints against the service. She also asked about Key Performance Indicators (KPI) for the service.
Julia O’Brien stated that there were not may KPIs for Licensing, apart from a KPI in relation to 28 days to inspect a new Designated Premises Supervisors (DPS). Sean Murphy agreed to bring more information about KPI’s and complaints back to the Committee.
Julia O’Brien stated that the complaints referred to a wide range of issues, including any complaints about a licensed premise or the service. Complaints relating to the PPP were collated by an Officer within the PPP and were not included in this report.
Councillor Ferris stated that a number of Members in the Committee had concerns about some elements within the report.
1) The report be noted; and
2) The additional information in relation to complaints and KPI’s will be provided ... view the full minutes text for item 9.
To consider the Committee’s Forward Plan for the remaining 2019/20 municipal year.
Julia O’Brien presented the Forward Plan report and stated that the next meeting of the Committee was scheduled for 10 November 2020, and not in March as stated in the report.
Julia O’Brien confirmed that the items in the Forward Plan were:
· Statutory Taxi and Private Hire Vehicle Standards – amendments to Policy;
· Taxi and Private Hire Convictions Policy – annual review
· Taxis Liaison Group update
· Fees and Charges
· Annual report – updated figures
Councillor Kerr asked that a report be brought to the Committee on the EU transition period and its implications on Licensing. Sean Murphy stated that this was still unknown, he would inform the Committee when relevant information was available.
Councillor Ferris expressed concern that this Committee might not have an opportunity to discuss and influence the Fees and Charges before its submission to the Executive. The Chairman stated that the report would be discussed at the next meeting in November, before the Executive meeting. The Chairman also stated that any issues could be raised and discussed with Officers before the next meeting.
Sean Murphy stated that the Public Protection Partnership (PPP) shared service recommended the Fees and Charges to the three local authorities. Their proposal then was then submitted to the Licensing Committee for recommendations before its submission to the Executive and Council. Sean Murphy also stated that there would be a consultation with the taxi trade on fees.
Sean Murphy stated that the fees and charges report contained in the report that was in the agenda pack was going to form the basis for the discussion at the next meeting.