Agenda item

Licence Delays

Item submitted by Scott Day - South Sefton Hackney Carriage Association

 

“Whilst acknowledging the impact the recent process changes to the renewal of licences (badges) has made, we would like to understand the reasons behind the increasing delays in issuing vehicle licences (plates) and what the plan of action is to resolve this. Rather than highlight problems, we would be happy to work with the team on this and are happy to present some permanent or temporary solutions that may assist".

Minutes:

The Committee considered an item submitted by Mr Scott Day (South Sefton Hackney Carriage Association) requesting reasons behind the delays in issuing vehicle licence plates and the action being undertaken to resolve this.

 

Mr Day indicated that himself and colleagues would be happy to work with Sefton Council to help provide some permanent or temporary solutions that might assist the Council in processing licence applications and renewals.

 

Mr Mark Quillan (Head of Customer Service – Sefton Council’s  One Stop Shop [OSS]) indicated that Sefton Council acknowledged that there had been delays in a number of licensing processes - in particular the renewing of plates; and that there were multiple reasons for this.

 

·     With over 6,000 licensed drivers as at March 2020, Sefton had a significant number of vehicle and badge licence holders - one of the biggest in the country.

·     Under the old ways of working, taxi customers were allowed to “drop-in” as and when they wished.

·     At its peak the OSS Officers were interviewing over 140 customers a day, had no control of who was coming in, when they were coming in and why they were coming in. However, they all got dealt with on the same day of their visit.

·     With the arrival of the pandemic the Bootle and Southport Once Stop Shops had had to close and the operational approach changed.

 

·     Following the completion of a comprehensive risk assessment the Bootle OSS reopened on 14th September 2020. This was the only OSS to open across the Liverpool City Region.

Mr Quillan set out the reasons for the delays in processing the licence applications:

 

·       The reopening and the control measures of the Risk Assessment ultimately brought its challenges and started the delays in licence processing.

·       The One-Stop Shop was now only able to offer an “Appointment only” service.

·       Maximum number of staff allowed in the office to allow for social distancing meant that only 5 booths could be opened, as opposed to 11 booths pre-pandemic.

·       Reduced opening hours. 9.00 am to 5.00 pm changed to 10.00 am to 4.00 pm

·       Working from home meant that OSS officers were not able access scanners, photocopiers and other consumables which had slowed down productivity.

·       At the time it had been very difficult to make any forward plans as the pandemic rules changed from month to month.

·       Customer Services had experienced a high volume of staff sickness or requirements for staff to self-isolate.

 

Mr Quillan indicated that to address the delays and backlog, Council Officers had met with the Leader of the Council and a number of Councillors and the following measures had been put into place:

 

·       A return to normal opening hours of 9.00 am to 5.00 pm.

·       Staff at Bootle OSS working weekends on urgent processes.

·       Two of the administrative / reception staff at the Bootle OSS were currently being trained to be upskilled to work as Taxi Licensing Officers.

·       Funding to recruit two additional staff for a short-term period had been applied for.

Mr Quillan acknowledged and thanked the Trade Representatives for offers of support and funding for the  recruitment of more staff and whilst the gesture had been appreciated, the Council had not been able to accept the offer, due to the maximum amount of staff allowed to work in the office.  

 

Mr Quillan indicated that it was believed that the OSS had made excellent progress with its existing workload since returning from the Christmas break and was now working on new and the renewal of vehicle plates that were received on 14th January 2022.  This was a significant step forward from the position in November/December 2021 and the OSS had auto renewed all drivers up to 31st January 2022. 

 

He emphasised the importance of keeping up the momentum and get further ahead with dates for processing – the OSS was looking at bringing the auto-renewal process for drivers to an end by 4th February.

 

Mr Quillan stressed that the OSS still had a risk assessment in place and had been informed by the Council’s Director of Public Health that the case numbers in the Liverpool City region remained very high. As such, caution had had to be exercised - and appointments at Bootle OSS rather than a return to the drop-in facility would have to remain in place for the foreseeable future.

 

Arising from discussion, the following issues were raised:

 

·       Mr Scott Day raised the issue of difficulties experienced by less tech-savvy drivers in completing on-line applications /sending emails. Councillor Lappin indicated that Sefton at Work at Cambridge Road could be approached to provide IT training / support to drivers.

·       Mr Trevor Jones raised concern with the use of ‘Officer’ speak on the on-line application process – suggested that notices could be posted in the OSS explaining the application process step by step in plain English.

·       Concern was expressed that Wolverhampton City Council had processed a number of licenses for drivers who operated in Sefton, which had implications for effective enforcement. Mr Joe Johnson (Berry Street Garage Association indicated that one of the conditions of licenses issued by Wolverhampton was that vehicle checks could be carried out by any local licensing authority. Mr Mark Toohey (Principal Officer) indicated that since deregulation, licensed drivers could operate anywhere in the country and were not restricted to the area the licence was issued. He stated that in the event of a large influx of Wolverhampton licensed taxis he was happy to liaise closely with Wolverhampton and Merseyside Police for the establishment of joint enforcement.

 

Mr Peter Moore (Head of Highways and Public Protection) concluded that Sefton’s taxi licensing service had continued to operate throughout the pandemic.  The Council welcomed offers of help and support and suggestions for improving the service. Medium and long term measures were being explored and developed to improve and streamline the taxi licensing service – this was not just in response to the Covid pandemic, the Council was identifying improvements to back office systems and ways of processing payments, etc. and the Council would continue to work closely with the Trade in this respect. Sefton Council had an excellent history of working closely with the trade and intended for this to continue.   At the same time the Council had to heed the advice of local public health experts. National Government would make decisions about how to manage the pandemic, but local knowledge was essential – and the Council was tapping into local intelligence to keep risk assessments relevant and live.

 

RESOLVED:

 

That the issues raised and the actions being taken to address the delays in processing licensing applications be noted.