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Taxi licensing toughened up to protect passengers across England

NEW measures will safeguard passengers and crack down on unfit taxi and private hire vehicle drivers, with tighter checks introduced across Local Authorities.

Building on existing legislation, Councils in England will now be mandated to use a national database to record instances where taxi and private hire vehicle drivers have their licences removed for misconduct. This new law will prevent them from simply reapplying for a licence in other areas by alerting the system to concerns about their prior behaviour.

This will ensure passengers can use taxis and private hire vehicles with greater confidence that these modes of transport are safe, helping to strengthen communities and restore pride in Towns and High Streets across the country.

While the vast majority of taxi and private hire trips are safe and efficient, there have been a small number of reports linking a minority of drivers to incidents of sexual harassment, abuse, and poor driving.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said:- "The safety of passengers, especially women and girls, is paramount. That's why I'm bringing in tough new measures to ensure that when you catch a cab, you can be confident your driver will take you from A to B safely and without incident. While the vast majority of drivers are hardworking and honest, we're taking steps to remove the few who abuse their position and pose a risk to passengers."

The step will bring into full force the Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles (Safety and Road Safety) Act 2022 and is being backed by the family of Sian O'Callaghan, who was tragically murdered by a private hire vehicle driver in Swindon in 2011, aged 22. Her family have since been campaigning for tougher measures to protect passengers.

Sian's family said:- "To see this law being implemented and rolled out across all local authorities is testament to Sian, it was in her nature to help others and this means so much to us personally. Her name is now linked to a drastic improvement in passengers' safety within taxis and PHVs, whilst also better protecting hard-working, law-abiding drivers themselves."

The Act, introduced in 2022, was spearheaded by Darlington MP Peter Gibson and has been supported by Ms O'Callaghan's family and the personal safety charity, Suzy Lamplugh Trust.

Suky Bhaker, CEO, Suzy Lamplugh Trust, said:- "We welcome today's announcement of tighter checks on drivers as an important milestone in steps to achieve this. It is vital that licensing authorities have access to all relevant information to decide if a driver meets licensing safety requirements."

The existing database is already used voluntarily by some local authorities, but only 74% of Councils in England are using it.

From 27 April, use of the database will be compulsory for every driver licence application and the Department for Transport will monitor its use closely. Councils that fail to do the necessary checks could face legal action.

Hosted by the National Anti Fraud Network, the system records all instances where taxi and private hire vehicle driver licences have been refused, suspended or revoked on either safeguarding or road safety grounds.

Improving information-sharing between licensing authorities prevents drivers who could do harm from getting a licence elsewhere without being challenged.

Steve Wright MBE, Chair of the Licensed Private Hire Car Association said:- "This measure will help join up enforcement and compliance nationally between licensing authorities to prevent the unacceptable movement from 1 authority to another of those who are unfit to be in the sector."

The benefits of the database are already clear to licensing authorities using the system. In Luton, the platform revealed an applicant who previously had their licence removed due to safeguarding concerns. Despite the driver failing to disclose this in their application, the system ensured the licensing authority was aware, and the request was rejected as a result.

Elsewhere, the database prevented a driver who had previously assaulted another taxi driver in Southampton from regaining a licence in Winchester.

This announcement forms part of the Government's commitment to support survivors and prioritise, prevent, and strengthen the pursuit of those who abuse their position of trust. Alongside the new Grooming Gangs Taskforce to tackle child sexual abuse and exploitation, this measure will weed out unfit drivers and safeguard passengers who rely on these services.

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New FSB report on rural businesses presents pathway to creating:- 'economic growth belt'

CALL for policymakers to address inequalities faced by rural firms; Phil McCabe, FSB Merseyside and Cheshire, comments small firms in rural areas like Cheshire and Warrington face a unique set of challenges that will continue to hinder their growth; unless policymakers step in and make serious changes;- according to a new Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) report.

The Growth Belt: Supporting Rural Small Businesses highlights the way rural businesses are struggling against a backdrop of mounting energy costs, poor transport links, and unreliable broadband. It also emphasises the diversity and ambition that rural small firms have; and how rural areas hold enormous potential for businesses to thrive and contribute to the wider economy.

The Government's 10 point plan for rural productivity from 2015 has also made little progress, leading to £43billion in lost economic contribution; but FSB's report provides an opportunity to reverse this.

Findings include on average through 2022, ¼ on ¼:-

  • 43% of rural small firms planned to grow, compared to 49% in urban areas.

  • 37% of rural businesses reported more than a 10% increase in their operating costs.

The report also highlights the impact of poor broadband connectivity in rural areas:-

  • 32% of rural firms report issues with internet reliability, compared to 17% of urban businesses.

  • 14% say speeds affected their ability to contact customers.

  • 11% say poor connection reduced the competitiveness of their business.

  • 5% say this led to a loss of business sales.

Recommendations to address the:- 'rural deficit' the Government should:-

  • Update the Universal Service Obligation (USO) minimum requirements for both upload and download speeds.

  • The basic VAT taxable turnover threshold should be raised from:- £85,000 to £100,000, to encourage growth rather than literally discouraging it, amid anecdotal evidence of small firms scaling back activity to avoid the risk of crossing the VAT cliff edge. This frozen threshold has remained the same since 2017, despite soaring inflation.

  • Take more hard working, potentially growth creating small firms out of Business Rates by increasing England's Small Business Rate Relief threshold to £25,000 from the current £12,000.

  • UK Governments must deliver the necessary charging points for electric vehicles by 2030 in rural parts of the UK.

  • Councils in England should appoint Local Business Champions; either elected members or senior management; to take clear responsibility and accountability for business engagement and funding applications. This is particularly crucial as Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) are becoming more urban-focussed in areas where there is an elected mayor, and funding risks are on the horizon.

  • On energy, 18% of rural based small firms have seen their energy costs triple or worse within the space of a year.

This comes 2 weeks after the Energy Bills Relief Scheme (EBRS) came to an end, which gave firms breathing room to cope with soaring energy bills. To help combat this, FSB is calling for energy providers to allow small and vulnerable firms who entered into a new energy agreement during the high-cost wholesale energy period to:- 'blend and extend' their contracts; effectively, the right to renegotiate a sky high fixed term early; to reflect the much lower wholesale energy prices currently available.

FSB Development Manager for Merseyside and Cheshire, Phil McCabe said:- "Our research highlights how rural small firms in places like Cheshire and Warrington are the bread and butter of their communities, full of diversity and ambition. They provide local employment opportunities, drive innovation, and generate economic growth. But after decades of promises from the Government, inadequate transport and poor digital connectivity are still putting these rural firms at a disadvantage. This hinders their potential to contribute even more to a sustainable and thriving economy. The VAT threshold is a barrier to growth for many, and charge anxiety and the need to use off-grid fuels means that the transition to net zero needs attention. Our report offers concrete, feasible solutions to narrow the productivity gap and unlock these rural small firms' full potential; not just for now, but for generations to come. The Government has the power to create a more sustainable and resilient economy that benefits everyone, no matter how small or how large their rural community is."

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