COUNCIL bosses have stressed they want to work alongside the taxi trade in South Tyneside after plans were agreed to force cabbies to attend a child sex abuse prevention course as a condition of their licence.
Members of the council’s licensing and regulatory committee have endorsed attendance at the Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) sessions by private hire and Hackney Carriage taxi drivers wanting a licence to work in the borough.
The rule will also apply to anyone handling calls in a taxi office.
The move comes in the wake of the Rotherham child abuse scandal.
The Jay Report into the scandal said more than 1,400 children were abused in the town between 1997 and 2013 and found taxi drivers played a “prominent role” in the abuse. Many of the victims were ferried to their abusers in cabs and some drivers were also found guilty of abuse.
The council says it is eager to work with the trade and other sectors of the business community to raise awareness of CSE and to teach drivers to “spot the signs” of abuse.
But some members of the trade regard the move as a form of “persecution”.
Speaking after the meeting, Hackney Carriage driver Michael Ridley said: “We are taxi drivers, not social workers. Social workers in Rotherham underwent years of studies in their field and yet they were still unable to spot this abuse. A one-day course will not give drivers the expertise to recognise the signs.
“We may have a passenger in our cab for five or ten minutes, how can we make those sort of judgements in that time?
“We as drivers have done nothing wrong, so why are we the ones being persecuted? I think this is wrong.”
Coun Tracey Dixon, the council’s lead member for area management and community safety, said: “We are seeking the support of key members of the business community in tackling the issue of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE). Independent reviews into cases of CSE have concluded that tackling this issue should be ‘everyone’s business’ and the council is committed to taking a proactive stance. Raising awareness in key business sectors – including the taxi trade – is part of our wider, ongoing approach. We have met with representatives of the trade, including members of the South Tyneside Hackney Carriage Association and a number of private hire operators, who have been supportive of the proposals.
“Taxi drivers have an important role to play as the ‘eyes and ears’ of the community.”
The aims of the training events are to give a greater understanding of CSE, to teach members of the community to ‘spot the signs’ and to advise people how to report any suspicious behaviour so that relevant agencies can build up an intelligence picture.
Drivers will be given seven days notice of attendance at the training sessions and “failure to attend without reasonable cause may prevent renewal of a driver’s licence”.