A Kirklees Council policy condemned as “racist” and “draconian” has been updated and is now in force after approval was granted at a meeting that took place on 19 July.
The council’s Fitness and Suitability Policy sees taxi drivers at risk of losing their licence if they accrue six or more penalty points. This left drivers fearing for their livelihoods as was reported by the Local Democracy Reporting Service last year.
The policy first came into effect in 2019 but has recently gone under review, with a draft report going through a period of consultation. The updated document explains its purpose is to: “ensure that the travelling public within West Yorkshire and York can be confident that the drivers licensed are suitable for this role and vehicles licensed are fit for purpose.”
It continues to state that drivers must be “fit and proper” and undergo testing to determine this. Drivers have the obligation to inform the council of all convictions, including minor motoring convictions and all Fixed Penalty Notices (FPN).
The consultation received 333 responses, with between 63 and 75 percent of people responding in favour of each of the council’s 19 proposed changes. However, some respondents were against the council’s plans. This stance was reiterated at the meeting with the trade representatives in attendance preferring a draft policy put forward by trade union GMB.
Councillors were divided on the issue. Cllr Adam Zaman (Labour, Batley East) described the council’s draft policy as “weak” and “quite vague.” Addressing Public Protection Group Leader, Fiona Goldsmith, he said: “The current decision-making processes where essentially you or someone else within the council decides the fate and how the policy is applied.
“Given the fact that it’s quite a vague policy and you will ultimately be making those decisions it opens the door to a lot of subjectivity which is not what we want in a policy because it needs to be clearly defined and drivers that are going to be answerable to this policy need to know exactly what they can and can’t do.”
Cllr Aafaq Butt (Labour, Heckmondwike) sought clarification on the policy’s mention of Fixed Penalty Notices (FPN) and their need to be reported to the licensing authority. He said: “Are we saying that somebody who gets a parking ticket would have to report that to licensing?
“Why would that have weighting on somebody’s ability, suitability to be a driver? I get that there are other factors that come into this and that there are certain behaviours somebody exhibits and you start to think – this is raising alarm bells – but a parking ticket?”
Ms Goldsmith explained that: “You’ve got the people who get a parking ticket and fail to pay the parking ticket and commit an offence and they could potentially be prosecuted for that. Although it seems like a small thing in the first instance.”
Another council officer explained the difference between a FPN and civil penalty notice and that FPN’s were more commonly handed out for “traffic-style parking offences.” He asserted that the policy was not about people getting parking tickets but about dealing with serious offences or a build-up of minor offences.
Cllr Butt requested the wording of the draft document be amended to make the distinction around FPNs clearer.
Cllr Zaman proposed that GMB’s draft policy be adopted as it was written “much better” and states that the decision to grant, refuse or revoke a licence sits with a committee rather than a single officer. He said: “If we’re going to have people’s livelihoods on the line when we’re making these decisions, then I think there should be more of a democratic process.”
However, when it came to the vote, the majority of the committee voted for the council’s policy with the amended wording around FPNs, with this effective immediately. Four Labour councillors voted for a period of consultation on the GMB draft policy but this was outvoted.