The Committee received a report from the Senior Specialist for Licensing and Community Safety, Mike Smith. On the 25 July 2022, the Committee approved the draft fees and charges for 2022-23 for public consultation. The consultation was carried out as per the statutory requirement that included placing a notice in the local newspaper and in the council offices. The taxi trade were also advised of the proposed fees and charges via the Council’s newsletter. The fees and charges would come into effect as of 3 October 2022 unless any objections were received. An objection had been received, which was detailed on page 11 of the report. A number of questions had been raised by Mr Majid, a Private Hire Operator. Licensing officers engaged with Mr Majid regarding his concerns. It was confirmed that the Council had set its fees in order to recover costs and had an approved methodology of setting the fees which was robust and set in a transparent way. There were both increases and decreases proposed in the fees detailed on page 17.
The Committee noted that the objection submitted related to the operator’s licence increasing in cost from £970 to £2200, which represented a 100% increase. Notwithstanding the fact that the Council is not permitted to make a profit it was therefore asked why the increase had been so significant.
The Senior Specialist for Licensing and Community Safety, Mike Smith confirmed that when the fees and charges were presented for the Committee’s consideration at their meeting in July, it was explained that the setting of fees had three elements to it. These included, the officers time; officers had to maintain a comprehensive time recording system where all activity recorded and coded to the various licence types enabling the Council to set fees based upon cost recovery. The second cost was comprised of the recharges into the private hire operator and other cost centres. The third cost was carrying forward any surplus or deficit. These three cost elements were then divided over a number of applications, resulting in a cost per licence. The increase in costs was reflective of the fact that the Council has had a reduction in the number of operators which meant that less income was coming into the cost centre, but the Council was still being recharged into the cost centre for on-costs. Whilst this represented a need to increase the fee, it had been set according to an adopted methodology.
The Committee requested further clarification with regard to the setting of fees. It was understood by the Committee that because there were fewer applicants with this type of licence that the costs of the Council had to be divided by a smaller number of applicants and that this was the reason for the increase. Given it represented an increase of over 100% it was therefore very significant. If there were fewer applications to be considered why hadn’t the officer time therefore reduced so that the increase could be reduced.
The Senior Specialist for Licensing and Community Safety, Mike Smith confirmed that there was not a huge amount of officer time spent on private hire operators, both in terms of processing applications or carrying out other work associated with the function. There had also been a reduction in officer time compared to previous years. The operator fee was broken down into three elements of which staff time accounted for £200 of the cost, with £637 of recharges and an adjustment of £1383 as per the deficit carry forward. The Senior Specialist for Licensing and Community Safety also confirmed that the duration of a licence of this type was 5 years, so this fee was for a 5 year licence.
The Committee requested clarification on the approximate number of applications received for this category type that it was reduced from so to get an idea of the number of operators involved.
The Senior Specialist for Licensing and Community Safety, Mike Smith confirmed that drivers had a 3-year licence and operators had a 5-year licence. The Council had 400 drivers over a 3-year period and had 40 operators over a 5-year period although this number had reduced from 60 operators. In 2016, it was found that the fee of approx. £200 was not covering the costs and therefore in 2018 the methodology was changed to profile the costs over 5 years. In addition, some operators had ceased trading due to Covid-19. The proposed fee of £2,223.10 was based upon the number of applications received the previous year which amounted to x10.
The Committee agreed that officers should write to the 40 operators to explain the history and provide transparency to all regarding the increase in costs. It was confirmed by Mike Smith that all trade members had notified of the consultation via the Trade Newsletter where details of the Committee reports and calculation has been signposted. The Senior Specialist for Licensing and Community Safety confirmed that all members of the trade would be notified of the updated fees in the same way again.
The Committee asked if the fee could be payable by instalments. The Senior Specialist confirmed that fees were payable upfront for the grant of the licence and payment in instalments was not available, as this had been done in the past although resulted in licence holders not honouring this arrangement which created significant work for officers chasing debts and a loss of income as the licence had already been granted.
The Committee having discussed the report;
RESOLVED to approve the Taxi and Private Hire Fees and Charges for 2022-23 to take effect as of 3 October 2022.