SCOTTISH Borders Council has once again come under fire for granting taxi licences to drivers with criminal convictions.  

As reported previously fire-starters, domestic abusers, thieves and reckless drivers have all been successful in acquiring taxi and private-hire licences from the council in backroom meetings that the press and public are barred from attending.

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.

At a meeting of Scottish Borders Council on Thursday 25 October, Galashiels and District councillor Harry Scott said he does not like the idea of his wife and daughter sat in a taxi with someone with an indecent exposure conviction and asked council chiefs how and why 155 licences have been granted to people with previous convictions.

Councillor Gordon Edgar, the executive member for roads and infrastructure, said: “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 if for any other reason applicant decide 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.

The convictions were composed of seven road traffic offences, four domestic breach of the peace offences, three breach of the peace offences, a threatening and abusive behaviour conviction, an assault conviction, a conviction for carrying an offensive weapon, a theft conviction, a drink driving conviction, and one conviction relating to social security.

The licensing committee also has the authority to suspend or revoke licences. Of the 20 drivers who were convicted while working in the Borders, 14 have had their taxi or private hire licences removed as a result of their convictions.

The six who were allowed to retain their licences were convicted of either road traffic, domestic, or other breach of the peace offences.

Mr Scott also took umbrage with the fact that Scottish Borders Council refuses to allow the 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 publicly 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 the authority feels the need to protect the personal data of applicants outweighs the public interest of knowing if taxi licence holders have previous convictions.