The committee received a further update report on the impact of Covid-19 on licensing services having received an initial update at its previous meeting on 1 July 2020. In response to the Covid-19 situation the Licensing Service has had to make a number of changes to the level of service received by businesses and individuals, including how the services were delivered and the fee level charged. At the request of the Committee this report provided a further update on the return to business as usual within the Licensing Service following the easing of lockdown restrictions, and also summarised the financial impacts of Covid-19 at this point in time. The report can be viewed in its entirety on pages 9 to 18 of the agenda pack.
The Committee was advised that the council’s licensing service had played a key role in supporting businesses and individuals, particularly within the hospitality sector which had been heavily impacted by Covid-19 restrictions. A number of changes had been implemented within the licensing service during the lockdown period and the report details those changes that had to be made during that period along with the current position. The move toward a return to more ‘business as usual’ services being resumed included all invoices owing having now been issued and license suspension for persistent non-payment now due to re-commence under the licensing act and gambling act whilst under taxi licensing, all face to face verification appointments and safeguarding checks for taxi drivers had been re-instated and carried out in accordance with office and service risk assessments. All backlog vehicle livery plates and doors signs had now been issued whilst the majority of backlog driver badges had also been issued. The in-house MOT testing centre in Aylesbury was fully operational and testing both new and renewal vehicles, all vehicles that were issued with a renewal licence during the lockdown period should now have had an enhanced vehicle test carried out. Any vehicle issued a license during the lockdown period that had failed to return for the mandatory council inspection had seen its licence suspended.
The financial impact and projected income loss from April to July was noted in the report on pages 15 and 16 of the agenda pack and was significantly lower than initially forecast, although could be affected by any further lockdown restrictions should they be imposed at any point.
During discussion the following issues were highlighted:
- It was queried how a member of the public would be aware whether a taxi was suspended from operating and whether there was an area on the council website where up to date livery plates and door signs could be viewed. It was clarified that during the lockdown period paper licenses had been issued temporarily with the requirement to visit the council testing centre when restrictions lifted. Where vehicles had not passed an inspection or had failed to attend and re-booking was not possible, the licences had been suspended and the taxis would not have up to date livery/badges on display. As it is still early in the formation of the new council it was confirmed that taxis would still display liveries from legacy councils. In order to assist the public with identifying a licensed taxi or private hire vehicle, officers agreed to take an action away to review the information currently on the legacy websites and ensure that this was consistent and available across the Buckinghamshire Council areas.
Action: Officers to review the information currently held on the legacy websites regarding how to identify a licensed taxi or private hire vehicle and ensure that this was consistent and available across the Buckinghamshire Council areas.
- In response to a query on how both English and Knowledge tests were being carried out, members were advised that face to face interviews had resumed with drivers where they were being greeted and shown to a room where they undertook a telephone based English test whilst Knowledge tests carried out by independent assessors had resumed in July.
- An update was given on animal licensing with members being advised that the licensing service continued to work through a backlog which had arisen as a result of not being able to inspect private houses or commercial premises prior to lockdown restrictions being lifted. New applicants and premises which had not been visited before were being prioritised followed by higher risk renewals which included larger scale operations. Midterm inspections of premises would then be worked through, many of which the council was familiar with and already had an understanding of operations.
- A member queried whether there was any knowledge of taxi companies having ceased operations or driver numbers having been reduced as result of covid-19. It was explained that a clear reduction in the expected level of income was evident so there had been fewer applications made than there ordinarily would have been. There was not specific knowledge of any operator ceasing operations but reports suggested that the trade was down circa 40-50%.
- In terms of preparedness for any additional restrictions imposed, the committee was advised that officers had learned lessons from the initial wave and would continue to be responsive, consistent and flexible.
That the report be noted.