On 22 August, the Licensing Committee made a controversial decision to amend the Taxi and Private Hire Vehicles strategy 2020 and to give taxi drivers longer to comply with lower emission requirements ( from 1 Jan 2021 to 1 Jan 2025) and to extend the maximum age of the vehicle from 10 years to 15 years. This outcome was against Senior Council Officer recommendation.
This should have been the end of the matter.
Note : The Licensing Committee is made up of 4 Conservative ; 4 Labour ; 2 Lib Dem ; 2 Brexit Party. It is quasi-judicial which means that members must vote on the basis of facts presented in the meeting, they should have not made their mind up in advance (pre-determination)….and not politically.
Richard Antcliff – Director of Public Protection and Streetpride took the unprecedented step of writing to the Licensing Committee, after the meeting, to point out the consequences of their actions. Cllr Eldret (Leader Labour Group) responded in writing. Her letter referred to the “political decisions made by the majority of licensing committee members”.
This raised concerns with Emily Feenan, the Council’s Monitoring Officer. She sought advice from Ben Williams a Licensing Barrister who concluded that Eldret’s letter gave the “impression that the Labour Group Cllrs entered the committee with a pre-determined agenda ” and that it gave the perception of a unified party approach to this decision and which also gave the perception of pre-determination”
The use of the word “political” by Eldret was picked up by Counsel who highlighted that decisions should not be political, and should be based on the facts laid in front of them. This was refuted by Eldret whose position was that the term “political” meant that the decisions were made by the politicians i.e. not Officers.
Despite this, Counsel’s view was that it was only the “perception” that was important and not what was actually intended. As a result of this the advice was that the decision”…could be vulnerable to successful Judicial Review…… if challenged the decision would be found to be unlawful”
As a result of this advice, the Monitoring Officer concluded, and which was reported in the Committee meeting on the 7th November, that the decision should be rescinded and that the matter should be heard afresh. Ms Feenan took the opportunity to remind Councillors that under their Code of Conduct that they must always have regard for any advice given by the Monitoring Officer in making a decision.
Cllr Alison Holmes (Conservative) who chairs the Licensing Committee then invoked “Committee Procedure Rule 66” which allows a motion to be tabled to rescind a decision by one-third of member. This was voted for by the 4 Conservative Cllrs – making up one-third of the committee.
The motion was in 2 parts – to rescind the decision and to refer the re-decision to a later meeting.
This was put to the vote and the 4 Conservative Cllrs voted for it, and the rest of the Committee voted against. The vote was lost.
The original decision to amend the Taxi Strategy remains in place. The Monitoring Officers advice was rejected.
This is a case of where the Council Officers ( possibly in conjunction with the Conservative group) have drawn on points of pedantry to try and overturn a democratic decision made by those people elected to hold office. It is evident, to a casual observer, that Eldret’s comments referring to “political decisions” was to emphasise who makes the decisions. And that those people are empowered to vote against recommendations. If they can’t then they have no purpose.
Ironically, the fact that a Senior Officer wrote to committee members, after the event, to influence a different outcome, does sound very questionable in a quasi-judicial environment.
What is unclear is what the endgame was from all of this charade. Unless Council Officers were going to present a whole new set of facts to the Committee then the decision would most likely remain unchanged regardless of the number of times it was asked. It would just waste time and money.
A public gallery full of taxi drivers witnessed an unseemly display of “straw clutching” wrapped up in esoteric and opaque legal argument on something that was ultimately not that relevant, and which was clearly fuelled by “sour grapes” as the Officers and the Conservative Group hadn’t had their way, back in August.
…and all helped by a highly paid Licensing Barrister.
Categories: Derby City Council