Civic leaders fear convicted criminals could be legally driving taxis in Leeds

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FEARS have been raised that a legal loophole could allow overseas taxi and private hire drivers with serious criminal records to operate in Leeds.

Senior councillors have now vowed to lobby the Government in a cross-party call for action over the “gaping hole” in licensing rules, which does not prevent people with criminal pasts working as drivers. The move comes after claims that the council’s plans to tighten its own licensing policy could be hampered by planned Government deregulation.

Members of the council’s cabinet have expressed concerns over existing legal checks that mean any potential driver, who was born outside the UK and arrived here as an over 16, applying for a Leeds licence needs only two character references and a valid reason for not having the equivalent to a UK CRB or DBS check to be considered.

Coun John Procter, deputy leader of the opposition Conservative group, claimed there was a “gaping hole in the process”. He said: “I don’t think anyone can come away with any comfort whatsoever.

“You could have committed a horrendous crime overseas, come to this country, obtained a perfectly satisfactory check here and be driving a car in Leeds.”

A report approved by the council’s executive board last week endorsed and further tightened the authority’s own licensing checks, including giving drivers training to help spot children who are at risk of being sexually exploited. In Leeds, all of the 5,800 drivers have been subject to three-yearly DBS checks.

However current national legislation allows licensed drivers, who may not have experienced similarly tough checks in neighbouring authorities, to be employed for work by operators in Leeds.

Coun Mark Dobson, executive member for safer communities, said: “There are authorities not too far away that are very lackadaisical and those drivers can come and ply their trade in Leeds – that’s not what we want.”

The comments come in the wake of an independent inquiry into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham, which found taxi and private hire vehicles had been used extensively by those involved in child sex abuse in the town between 1997 and 2013. The new call for action also comes as the Government bids to push a Deregulation Bill through Parliament. The Local Government Association has claimed this “will make it easier for criminal gangs to target the vulnerable”.

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “Public safety is our top priority and licensing authorities have robust measures in place to check the history of operators. Under the new rules, all private hire journeys need to be carried out by licensed operators that are subject to tough checks. Licensing authorities can work together to take enforcement action against all vehicles and drivers licensed in their areas.”