Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council

Big plans, bright future

Licensing Committee (ceased to operate 10/04/2017) Minutes

Date:
Tuesday, 21st February, 2012
Time:
10.00 a.m.
Place:
Council Chamber, Town Hall, High Street, Stockton on Tees, TS18 1AJ
 
Please note: all Minutes are subject to approval at the next Meeting

Attendance Details

Present:
Cllr Paul Kirton (Chair); Cllr Michael Clark, Cllr Evaline Cunningham, Cllr Phillip Dennis, Cllr Eileen Johnson, Cllr Miss Tina Large, Cllr Alan Lewis, Cllr Ray McCall, Cllr Mrs Kathryn Nelson, Cllr Maurice Perry, Cllr David Wilburn and Cllr Bill Woodhead.
Officers:
J Jones, L Maloney (DNS); J Nertney, P K Bell (LD).
In Attendance:
For agenda item 5 - Private Hire Operator NEEL - Mr N W, Mr M D, Mr J B; For agenda item 6 - Combined Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Driver - Mr J N - Mr J N and Mr J K (Chair of HCA).
Apologies for absence:
Cllr Ken Dixon and Cllr Jean Kirby.
Item Description Decision
Public
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DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST
Councillor Large declared a personal and prejudicial interest in respect of agenda item 5 Private Hire Operator NEEL as she had submitted a statement regarding incidents that NEEL had been involved in. Councillor Large withdrew from the meeting during consideration of the item.
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THE MINUTES OF THE MEETINGS HELD ON 6TH OCTOBER 2011 AND 29TH NOVEMBER 2011 FOR CONFIRMATION AND SIGNATURE.
The minutes of the meetings held on 6th October 2011 and 29th November 2011 were confirmed and signed by the Chair as a correct record.
Confidential
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PRIVATE HIRE DRIVER - SL
  • Private Hire Driver - SL
RESOLVED that Mr S L's licence to drive Private Hire vehicles be revoked with immediate effect.
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PRIVATE HIRE OPERATOR - NEEL
  • Private Hire Operator - NEEL
RESOLVED that the renewal of the Operators licence be granted with the following conditions to be attached to the licence by virtue of Section 55(3) of the 1976 Act:-

a. Mr N D W shall at all times be director of the Company. If for any reason he is no longer a director, NEEL must report this to the Local Authority within 7 days of the change.

b. There shall be no material alteration in the composition of the Company without written notice being given to the Local Authority within 7 days of its alteration. For these purposes the composition of the Company is deemed to be Mr N D W as Managing Director and Mr G A P as Director. So far as a change of shareholding is concerned, the Local Authority shall be notified should any individual become a majority shareholder of the Company.

c. Mr A K shall not have a shareholding in excess of that held by any other shareholder and shall not have any regulatory dealings with N E E L.

d. Mr N D W shall oversee all regulatory aspects of the business of N E E L.

e. With the agreement of the Local Authority, Mr N D W may delegate any regulatory matters to such specified person(s) as may be appropriate and authorise the said person(s) to sign documents on behalf of N E E L. Specimen signatures of those involved shall be provided and only those signatures will be accepted by the Local Authority.
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COMBINED DRIVER - JN
  • Combined Driver - JN
RESOLVED that the item be deferred.
10.00 am - 1.00 pm

Preamble

ItemPreamble
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Consideration was given to a report on a licensed private hire driver who had been convicted of drink driving and who had been disqualified from driving for 14 months and who had voluntarily surrendered his badges.

Mr S L was a licensed private hire driver. He had held a licence since May 2010 and his licence was due to expire on 31st May 2012.

On 3rd January 2012 Mr S L voluntarily surrendered his badges to the Licensing Department and advised staff in the contact centre that due to the seriousness of his actions he thought he'd better hand his badges in.

The details were that on 25th December 2011 Mr S L was seen driving a taxi in an erratic manner. He was stopped and breathalysed and the proportion of breath to alcohol was 61 micrograms of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath.

Mr S L was also searched and was found to be in possessions of a Class B drug (cannabis).

Due to the nature of the above information Mr S L voluntarily surrendered his badges.

The notification of Mr S L's actual conviction was sent in a letter dated 20th January 2012 and a copy of that letter was attached to the report. This information outlined that Mr S L's attended Court on 5th January 2012 and his DVLA Licence was disqualified for 14 months, he was fined 250.00, received costs of 85.00 and there was a victim surcharge of 15.00. The disqualification would be reduced if Mr S L attended a Course designed to inform people of the dangers of Alcohol and Driving when combined.

Members were reminded that under the provisions of Section 61(1)(a) of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 the Council may suspend or revoke or refuse to renew the licence of a hackney carriage and/or private hire driver on any of the following grounds:-

(a) that he has since the grant of the licence:-

(i) been convicted of an offence involving dishonesty, indecency or violence; or

(ii) been convicted of an offence under or fails to comply with the provisions of the Act of 1847 or of this part of this Act; or

(b) any other reasonable cause

Members were also advised of the revisions to Section 61 introduced under the Road Safety Act 2006 as follows:-

(2a) Subject to subsection (2b) of this section, a suspension or revocation of the licence of a driver under this section takes effect at the end of the period of 21 days beginning with the day on which the notice is given to the driver under subsection (2)(a) of this section

(2b) If it appears that the interests of public safety require the suspension or revocation of the licence to have immediate effect, and the notice given to the driver under subsection (2)(a) of this section includes a statement that that is so and an explanation why, the suspension or revocation takes effect when the notice is given to the driver.

A copy of the Council guidelines on The Relevance of Convictions was available for Members at the meeting.

Mr S L had been invited to attend the meeting but was not in attendance. Members were informed that Mr S L had not made a request for an adjournment and Members therefore agreed to hear the matter in his absence.

Members agreed that Mr S L's licence to drive Private Hire vehicles be revoked with immediate effect. Members agreed that due to the very serious nature of the offence and the fact that Mr S L was no longer the holder of a DVLA licence that it was sufficient cause to revoke his licence.

Members were of the view that the integrity of a licensed driver was one of the most important factors in protecting members of the public when travelling in licensed vehicles. The safety of the public was one of the main considerations of the Committee and his actions on that day were deemed to put the safety of the public at risk. The Councils policy on the relevance of convictions considered drink driving and drug offences to be particularly serious.

As Members made a finding that the revocation of Mr S L's licence was based on the grounds of public safety they agreed that under Section 61(2)(B) that the revocation take immediate effect.
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Consideration was given to a report on a licensed private hire operator whose licence was up for renewal and who had asked that conditions on their licence, previously imposed by Committee, be amended.

Additional conditions were attached to the licence of NEEL's predecessor company, T C L trading as R C, following a Committee hearing on 18th August 2009. The minutes of this meeting were attached to the report.

NEEL trading as R C had held a licence with the authority since 4th March 2010. The additional conditions imposed on T C L trading as R C were subsequently transferred over to the licence of N E E L trading as R C, to reflect the change of company and related officers, in particular the role of Mr D K as director of N E E L with responsibility for all regulatory matters. The last licence was issued on 1st December 2010, expiring on 30th November 2011. A copy of this licence was attached to the report.

On 17th March 2011, a letter was received advising that a new Managing Director had been appointed. A copy of the letter was attached to the report.

On 3rd May 2011, a letter was received naming new authorised signatories as Mr N W (Managing Director), Mr G P (Director) and Mr D T (Transport Manager). Copies of specimen signatures were supplied. A copy of the letter was attached to the report.

On 8th June 2011, a letter was received advising that Mr D K was no longer a director of N E E L. A copy of the letter was attached to the report.

On 3rd August 2011, a letter was received from the company's legal representative asking to amend the additional conditions to bring them into line with the conditions on the licence they held with Middlesbrough Council. These conditions gave Mr N W responsibility for all regulatory matters. A copy of this request was attached to the report.

On 22nd November 2011, a letter was received from Managing Director, Mr N W, asking to delegate responsibility for licensing matters to other members of staff working under his control. A copy of this letter was attached to the report.

On 29th November 2011, N E E L's application for renewal of their private hire operator's licence was received. A copy of this application was attached to the report.

Following a meeting with officers, Mr W submitted a letter on 5th January 2012, delegating responsibility for licensing matters to Mr G B, Transport Manager and Mr M D, Driver Manager. A copy of this letter was attached to the report.

It was requested that Members consider whether the additional conditions on the licence of N E E L trading as R C be amended to the following:-

a. Mr N D W shall at all times be director of the company. If for any reason he is no longer a director, N E E L must report this to the Local Authority within 7 days of the change.

b. There shall be no material alteration in the composition of the company without written notice being given to the Local Authority within 7 days of its alteration. For these purposes the composition of the company is deemed to be Mr N D W as Managing Director and Mr G A P as Director. So far as a change of shareholding is concerned, the Local Authority shall be notified should any individual become a majority shareholder of the company.

c. Mr A K shall not have a shareholding in excess of that held by any other shareholder and shall not have any regulatory dealings with N E E L.

d. Mr N D W shall oversee all regulatory aspects of the business of N E E L.

e. With the agreement of the Local Authority, Mr N D W may delegate any regulatory matters to such specified person(s) as may be appropriate and authorise the said person(s) to sign documents on behalf of the N E E L. Specimen signatures of those involved shall be provided and only those signatures will be accepted by the Local Authority.

As background to this renewal application, Members were informed of the following:-

a. The company could operate a maximum of 97 vehicles. At this moment they were operating 93 vehicles, including 60 vehicles owned by the company and 33 owner drivers.

b. N E E L's public service vehicle operator's licence was revoked by the Traffic Commissioner at a public inquiry in Leeds on 5th August 2011. The revocation was effective from 23.59 hours on 26th September 2011. A copy of the reasons for the decision made by the Traffic Commissioner were attached to the report.

c. A total of 30 complaints had been received by the Local Authority since the last renewal of the company's private hire operator's licence on 1st December 2012. A schedule detailing those complaints was attached to the report.

d. Particularly concerning is the fact that 15 of these complaints had been received since the beginning of January 2012 and related to the behaviour of the company's drivers and representatives at Thornaby Town Centre. Complaints had been received that R C staff had been touting for business, plying for hire, man handling customers into vehicles that had not been pre booked, blocking the road in and around the taxi pick up and drop off point and intimidating other taxi drivers in the area. Meetings had been held with company representatives and other parties about this issue and a letter was sent to the company on 11th January 2012. A copy of the letter was attached to the report.

e. Since 4th March 2010, a total of 57 licensing penalty points had been issued to N E E L. These were issued for failing to produce an MOT certificate when requested on 9 occasions, failing to comply with a 14 day notice on 5 occasions, failing to produce a certificate of insurance when requested on 3 occasions, failing to present a vehicle for inspection on 3 occasions and failing to notify of a transfer of ownership on 1 occasion. A schedule detailing these contraventions were attached to the report.

f. The licensing points system was set up as a means of establishing a record of poor conduct. A note explaining the licensing points system was attached to the report.

Members were respectfully reminded that Section 55 of the 1976 Act dealt with the licensing of operators of private hire vehicles and states:-

(1) Subject to the provisions of this Part of this Act, a district council shall, on receipt of an application from any person for the grant to that person of a licence to operate private hire vehicles, grant to that person an operator's licence provided that a district council shall not grant a licence unless they are satisfied that the applicant is a fit and proper person to hold an operator's licence.

(2) Every licence granted under this section shall remain in force for such period, not being longer than five years, as a district council may specify in the licence

(3) A district council may attach to the grant of a licence under this section such conditions as they may consider reasonably necessary.

(4) Any applicant aggrieved by the refusal of a district council to grant an operator's licence under this section, or by any conditions attached to the grant of such a licence, may appeal to the magistrates' court.

In addition under the provisions of Section 62(1) of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 the Council may suspend or revoke or (on application therefore under section 55 of this Act) refuse to renew an operator's licence on any of the following grounds:-

a. any offence under, or non-compliance with, the provisions of this Part of this Act;

b. any conduct on the part of the operator which appears to the district council to render him unfit to hold an operator's licence;

c. any material change since the licence was granted in any of the circumstances of the operator on the basis of which the licence was granted; or

d. any other reasonable cause.

(2) Where a district council suspend, revoke or refuse to renew any licence under this section they shall give to the operator notice of the grounds on which the licence has been suspended or revoked or on which they have refused to renew such licence within fourteen days of such suspension, revocation or refusal.

(3) Any operator aggrieved by a decision of a district council under this section may appeal to a magistrates' court.

Mr N W, Mr M D and Mr J B of N E E L were in attendance at the meeting.

Member noted that the report before them was to consider the renewal of the Operators licence and was not simply the Operator's request for amended conditions to be placed on the licence should the licence be renewed. Members therefore had regard to the disciplinary issues contained within the report and considered whether they were minded to grant the renewal of the Operators Licence. In particular Members considered the provisions of Section 62(1) of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976.

Members noted the following issues which were relevant to their deliberations:-

1. N E E L had their licence to operate Public Service Vehicles revoked by the Traffic Commissioner at a public enquiry held in Leeds on 05 August 2011. The Traffic Commissioner's reasons were attached to the report and in the opinion of Members were quite damning. Members noted that the explanation given by Mr W was that the issues which led to that revocation had occurred prior to his appointment with the Company.

2. Since the last renewal of the Operators licence on 1st December 2010 the Council had received 30 complaints from members of the public about the Operator and drivers employed by them or working through their Operators licence. Mr W's explanation was that these complaints had to be put into the context of the scale of the company and that although they would not wish to see any complaints they constituted a small proportion of the jobs carried out by the Company under the Operators licence.

3. Fifteen of the complaints had been received fairly recently i.e. since the beginning of January 2012. These complaints related to a dispute that had arisen over the Company's activities in Thornaby Town Centre where it was alleged they were touting for business and plying for hire. This had led to a dispute with a number of other licensed drivers in the private hire and hackney carriage trade. Complaints had been received that representatives of the Company had been intimidating other drivers and members of the public who had complained. Mr W apologised for the situation that had arisen in Thornaby Town Centre and explained that the Company should not have acted as it had and that such instances would not happen again.

Since 4th March 2012, 57 internal licensing penalty points had been received by the Company. The matter for which points had been issued included failing to produce an MOT, failing to comply with a 14 day notice, failing to produce insurance, failing to present a vehicle for inspection and failing to notify a transfer of ownership. Mr B on behalf of the Company informed Members that he disputed some of the points that had been issued. It was noted by Members that there was no evidence that the company had disputed the points at the time they were issued and Members were satisfied that the report was an accurate record of the internal penalty points awarded to the Company.

Members were concerned at the history as detailed above and did give consideration to refusing to renew the Operators licence. However Members did take into consideration the explanations given by the representatives of the Company. In an ideal world Members would hope that the Company receive no customer complaints or internal penalty points. It was appreciated that these issues had to be taken into context with the size of the Company. Notwithstanding that Members hoped that the assurances given by Mr W and the other representatives of the Company would result in a reduction in these complaints and internal penalty points. Any failure to act on the assurances given may result in the Operator been brought back before the Committee where its continued fitness may be considered.

Members were particularly concerned at the issues which had developed in Thornaby Town Centre. The manner in which the Company had acted in relation to that situation appeared to Members to be a blatant disregard for the licensing laws and / or petty gangsterism and intimidation by representatives of the Company. This behaviour was totally unacceptable and any further repeats of such behaviour would cast serious doubt on the ability of the Company to continue as a licensed Operator.

It was also noted that there had been a history with the Company changing names and / or Operators when the level of complaints or issues increased. Members were mindful of the previous history when the Company had been granted their Operators Licence in August 2009. Members did take on board the point made by Mr W that he had not been in position at the Company when some of the issues had arisen. However Members wished to make it clear that further instances of bad practice could not be explained away by simply blaming previous employees and if such situations occurred in future this may demonstrate that the problem lay with the owners of the Company who may feel they can act in a manner not compliant with licensing law and good practice and that if disciplinary issues result they can simply appoint a new Operator or company representative. Members were mindful of this issue and expected the Company to have a genuine regard for their obligations under the licensing regime.

After considering all of the issues Members noted the assurances given by Mr W that he and his colleagues were striving to improve systems and practices at the Company and they hoped their efforts would result in an improvement. Members hoped that Mr W and the other Company representatives would heed the warning given by the Committee and that there would be a genuine improvement in standards.
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Mr J N and his representative Mr J K (Chair of HCA) were in attendance at the meeting and requested that the item be deferred to enable them to seek legal advice and obtain a copy of the interview tapes.

Members agreed to the deferment but told Mr J N that copies of his emails included in the papers were totaly inappropriate in their tone and manner and that he should stopn sending such emails to Council officers immediately. As a licensed driver Mr J N was expected to behave in a civil manner which included his communications and dealings with Council ooficers.

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