Newcastle Borough Council Tells Drivers “You Must Speak English”

NEWCASTLE Borough Council is looking at bringing in new rules which would require licensed taxi and private hire drivers to prove they have an adequate standard of spoken English.

The tougher rules have been proposed as part of an in-house ‘knowledge’ test which will include the highway code, the Equality Act and the clauses surrounding disability rights and taxi legislation and child sexual exploitation awareness training.

The Council says it wants to bring these new requirements in to ensure drivers can “communicate with customers effectively”.

The proposal has been welcomed by which has been calling for more stringent tests before licenses are issued, and say the rules will “be good for both drivers and passengers alike.”

Fareed Baloch said he believes the idea should be used by other councils and said that for it to work effectively, neighbouring Stoke would need to have the same criteria too.

The news was also welcomed by locals, with one saying he was “…surprised that this hasn’t always been a requirement.”

Up until 2015 there were tougher requirements for those wishing to operate as a licensed taxi or private hire driver.

“We have seen cases of drivers being able to stop child sexual exploitation from taking place because they were aware of the signs from having undertaken awareness training.

“And it is important for a driver to be able to communicate with their passenger – from a customer service point of view as well as a safety need.

“But as we have seen in certain areas of the country, such as Wolverhampton, if these rules are not imposed across the board then there will be a certain amount of ‘license tourism’ particularly for drivers who find their passengers via an app like Uber with no physical base.”

The new in-house test would also include a written test: currently the requirements are only that a driver holds a BTEC qualification which has no English language requirement.

The council report states: “The English speaking requirement is to ensure that drivers can communicate with customers effectively, pass the requisite qualifications and understand the training being provided to them.”

The move has been supported by Councillor Tony Kearon, who said the licensing committee was still dealing with drivers appearing in front of the council committee with interpreters saying they “breached licensing because they don’t understand the requirements.”

Cllr Kearon has, however, questioned whether the proposals go far enough, suggesting that a face to face interview would be more appropriate to assure genuine compliance.

“Will there be the expectation for drivers who have English as a second language that they will have a face-to-face interview with council staff,” he asked. “Written evidence can come from anyone.”

The plan was backed this week by members of the authority’s licensing and public protection committee, which will now be subject to a 12-week consultation.

The council will accept certificates from English as a Second Language (ESOL) or the Secure English Language Test (SELT).

Council officer Matthew Burton said: “If the applicant cannot converse to a satisfactory standard we will ask them to attend and pass an English course.”

Not everyone has been so welcoming of the move, echoing the call that the problems currently being faced stemmed from the lax requirements of recent years.

Newcastle and Kidsgrove Taxi Drivers’ Association vice-chairman Bashir Choudahry said: “Five or six years ago there were only 50 taxi drivers in the area – and now there are 250 cars and no increased demand.

“The council did not listen to us and now there are so many taxi licences out there it is unbelievable.

“They should put a freeze on taxi licences and if a driver leaves the trade then don’t replace them.

“Drivers are struggling to get work and waiting two hours for a job that’s worth £2.50. There are also drivers ripping off customers and the council needs to sort it out.”

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