Council chiefs have come in for further criticism for granting taxi licences to applicants with criminal convictions and for insisting on doing so in secret.
As reported previously, burglars, arsonists, thieves and drink-drivers have all been given taxi and private-hire licences by the council in meetings held behind closed doors that the press and public are barred from attending.
Nearly half of all licences handed out in 2017 were given to cabbies with criminal records, with domestic abuse, drink-driving, wilful fireraising and speeding offences listed as prior convictions on their 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.
At a full meeting of Scottish Borders Council today, October 25, Galashiels councillor Harry Scott asked council chiefs how and why 155 licences have been granted to people with previous convictions.
Selkirkshire councillor Gordon Edgar, the authority’s executive member for roads and infrastructure, told him: “When an applicant has prior convictions, has criminal prosecutions pending or the police object to the granting or renewal of a licence, then the application is referred to the civic government licensing committee to determine.
“It will then be for the committee to decide, based on all information available, whether the applicant is a fit and proper person to hold such a licence.
“Police officers will also be present and address the committee.
“The applicant will also be invited to speak to the committee and be subject to questioning.
“If the committee considers the applicant to be a danger to the public, or for any other reason decides that the applicant is not a fit and proper person, then the application will be refused.”
Following on from his first question, Mr Scott asked Mr Edgar: “How many holders of taxi and private hire licences have been convicted of criminal offences whilst employed as such during the past five years and what were the nature of those offences?”
Mr Edgar revealed that over the past five years, 20 taxi or private licence holders have been convicted of criminal offences while employed as drivers in the Borders.
Those convictions were made up of seven road traffic offences, four domestic breaches of the peace, three other breaches of the peace and one conviction apiece for threatening or abusive behaviour, assault, carrying an offensive weapon, theft, drink-driving and social security fraud.
The licensing committee also has the authority to suspend or revoke licences, and of the 20 drivers convicted while working here, 14 have had theirs taken off them as a result of their offending.
The six allowed to retain their licences were convicted of either road traffic offences or domestic or other breaches of the peace.
Mr Scott also took umbrage with the fact that the council refuses to allow such decisions to be subject to press or public scrutiny, saying: “I first heard of this from the media, but I’ve since seen the freedom-of-information request that the media had seen.
“I’m really not satisfied that we’re being as tight as we could be when we’re vetting these people – convictions for indecent exposure, for example. I really don’t want my wife and my daughter sitting in a taxi with a driver who has got a conviction for this offence.
“Another licence holder has convictions for theft, breach of the peace, excess alcohol, cultivating cannabis and possession of drugs. Do we really want somebody like that driving a taxi in our area?
“There are plenty of reports coming from south of the border, mostly London and the Midlands, where taxi drivers have been involved in some heinous crimes, particularly against women and young girls. I really don’t want that to happen here.
“Previous convictions are a matter of public record, so there’s no reason that these applications should not be heard in an open session of the licensing board.
“If there’s still some doubt about that, then it should be made clear to the applicants that all of their previous convictions will be made clear in a publically-available meeting.
“It’s not acceptable that these are heard in private, and the announcement that the protection of the personal data of applicants outweighs the public interest in whether a licence holder has a previous conviction is also unacceptable.
“These people are in trusted positions, and we need to be sure that they are as trustworthy as they can be.”
A spokesperson for the council confirmed that it feels the need to protect the personal data of applicants outweighs the public interest in knowing if taxi licence holders have previous convictions.