Council told to review its licensing policies
KIRKLEES Council is being forced to review restrictions it has placed on taxi licences.
But the council is convinced it will not have to make wholesale changes to the way it polices the fleet of 1,825 taxis and private hire vehicles.
By March 31 next year, the Government wants all councils to have examined the conditions they have put on taxi licences.
If any restrictions are found to be unjustified, they will have to be lifted.
Any restrictions that are justified can stay in place, but must be reviewed every three years.
The move marks a big change for councils, which can currently put restrictions on taxi licences without having to justify or review them.
The Government's order for reviews comes after a study into taxi licensing by the Office of Fair Trading last year.
The OFT decided that some limits imposed by councils were not justified and called for the Government to revoke local authorities' power to restrict taxi licences.
Before the guidance is issued at the end of this year, a full consultation with councils will take place.
The OFT has recommended a maximum limit for fares, rather than councils dictating a fixed price.
This will allow customers to negotiate cheaper fares.
The OFT also thinks more taxis should be allowed to operate, increasing competition between firms and bringing extra choice for consumers.
The OFT has asked councils to draw up best practice guidelines, so they can make sure the quality of taxi services does not vary too greatly within an area.
Kevin Kendall, head of licensing at Kirklees Council, said most of the OFT recommendations were already being carried out by his authority.
He said Kirklees Council already reviewed its prices and services and compared them to other areas.
Maximum fares for Kirklees' 225 hackney carriages and 1,600 private hire taxis are already set and this fare is agreed with customers and taxi operators, said Mr Kendall.
He added: "We compare the maximum fares with those charged in other areas on an ongoing basis.
"We also review service provision as part of the council's scrutiny process."
The council also has a customer comments hotline on 01484 223469 to help officers monitor taxi standards.
Mr Kendall said licensing officers would be consulting taxi users, council departments, police and other transport providers before drawing up plans for reviewing its taxi licence restrictions.
Once the consultation is finished, officers will put the plans to the council's Licensing and Safety Committee.
Mr Kendall said: "We will be looking carefully at the Government response and a report will be taken to the council's Licensing and Safety Committee in the coming months."