Almost half of Borders taxi drivers granted licences last year have criminal records, council reveals

Scottish Borders Council's Newtown headquarters.
Scottish Borders Council's Newtown headquarters.

Burglars, arsonists, domestic abusers, thieves, flashers and reckless drivers have all been granted taxi and private-hire licences by Scottish Borders Council, it can be revealed.

Nearly half of all licences handed out in 2017 were given to people with criminal convictions, with domestic abuse, drink driving, wilful fireraising and a litany of speeding offences listed as prior convictions on successful application forms.

One licence holder has even been convicted of indecent exposure twice, and another has a criminal record for carrying a pistol in public.

Figures released by Scottish Borders Council under freedom-of-information legislation show that in 2017, 155 out of the 385 taxi and private-hire licences granted in the Borders were given to people with prior convictions.

Speeding accounts for a large proportion of the convictions, but many are for more serious motoring offences such as drink-driving and getting behind the wheel without a licence or insurance or while disqualified.

One driver was convicted of driving over a golf course and causing criminal damage.

Several licence holders have also been convicted of offences of violence such as assault, domestic abuse and assaulting a police officer. One driver has even been convicted of assault four times.

When a person applies for a taxi or private hire licence, councillors have the option of reviewing the application at a civic government licensing committee meeting, and that option is used mostly if Police Scotland have made representations about previous convictions.

However, the council’s website lists just 17 applications that went before the committee in 2017, out of which only three were rejected. The council was unable to confirm that at time of publication, however.

Furthermore, the council refuses to hold such committee meetings in public, meaning taxi licences are being granted to people with serious convictions behind closed doors and away from public scrutiny.

A spokesperson for the authority said that the need to protect the personal data of applicants outweighs the public interest of knowing if taxi licence holders have previous convictions.

The council spokesperson added: “As set out in the protocol and as required by the 1982 Civic Government Act, all applications are referred to Police Scotland.

“There are no set criteria, and each application is considered on its individual merits. This includes applications for renewal.

“The 155 taxi licences with convictions have at some point been considered by the licensing committee.

“The bulk of those licences issued are renewals where there have been no new convictions. For example, a licence is granted by the committee after they have considered an applicant’s previous convictions. If the same applicant has no further convictions, there is no basis for the committee to consider their renewal application.  

“For more serious offences, it is likely that the police would object to any application, which will then need to be considered by the licensing committee.

“The committee would look at the details of the circumstances of the offence and would take into account how long ago the conviction or convictions took place.

“Committee members will also consider other matters such as how they have addressed their offending behaviour, such as attending counselling, or whether the applicant has shown remorse.

“In all applications, it is open to the committee to grant a licence for a lesser period, while the police also have the ability to request a suspension or a withdrawal of a licence should the licence holder’s conduct cause them concern.”