Taxis and private hire cars play an essential part in local transport networks, filling gaps in overall public transport provision, particularly for those without access to a car. For visitors to Scotland, taxi drivers will often be their first point of contact and can provide a positive impression of a friendly, professional and open country. Across Scotland, from major cities to remote and rural areas, they are an invaluable service for both residents and visitors. As well as providing an essential service, the taxi and private hire car industry also represents a major employer and a significant level of turnover in the Scottish economy.
Taking account of the importance of the taxi and private hire sector to the economy of Scotland, it is essential that it is regulated to the highest standards, that the public is protected from harm while using the service and the industry is protected from infiltration and targeting by organised crime groups and individuals. It is for these reasons that we must have a robust system of licensing for taxis and private hire cars which takes both local and national issues into account. Local licensing authorities, working with the police, are responsible for ensuring that we have in place a licensing system that not only serves local communities, but ensures that in doing so, only fit and proper persons are involved within the management, ownership and operation of this important business sector. This Best Practice guidance provides information on issues that officials within licensing authorities should take into account when designing and implementing their local licensing regime.
Responsibility for taxis and private hire car licensing has recently moved within the Scottish Government from Transport Scotland to the Justice Directorate. I know the importance of the industry and the excellent service it delivers 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. However, in my role as Justice Secretary, I am all too aware of the threat to businesses from serious organised crime and unfortunately the taxi and private hire sector is not exempt from the influence and participation of organised crime groups. To counter the threat posed by these groups, we require everyone involved in the licensing regime throughout Scotland to work together to produce a robust regime that can be effectively enforced to become a strong deterrent to serious organised crime groups. Not all areas will be affected by this issue to the same extent, but it is the responsibility of everyone to be aware of the risks and to do what they can to eradicate its influence.
We cannot expect a licensing authority to tackle this alone but there are valuable steps you can take that make it more difficult for criminals to make money out of the taxi and private hire car trade: from careful scrutiny of applicants through to enforcement measures to ensure drivers aren't boosting their earnings by illegally plying for hire. There are also important factors to consider when councils and other public bodies are procuring taxi services where licensing officials can support their colleagues to ensure lucrative contracts are not exploited by firms with criminal connections. No part of the process is insignificant. Tackling bad practice and criminal elements benefits the vast majority of reputable individuals and businesses within the trade who are committed to providing an invaluable service to our communities.
Within the Scottish Government we are looking at the licensing regime for taxis and private hire cars as a whole to see where we can make changes that will make the trades as safe and efficient as possible. We aim to bring all drivers and firms up to the very best standards we have in evidence across the country. We will keep you informed as and when changes are being considered and implemented.
I would like to thank you for the work you do and hope you find this guidance helpful.
Kenny MacAskill, Cabinet Secretary for Justice
Email: Joanna Mackenzie