The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Mr Q’s complaint that the Council lied to us to make us change our decision on an earlier complaint about private hire and taxi driver training. This is because further investigation is unlikely to lead to a different outcome. Nor will we investigate Mr Q’s related complaint about the Council’s decision, in March 2019, not to accept BTEC courses for licensed drivers. This is because it is unlikely we would find fault, nor has it caused injustice to the Association making the complaint, or its members.
- Mr Q complained on behalf of an association which represents private hire and taxi drivers in the Council’s area. He complained
- that the Council lied to us during our investigation of his previous complaint about its decision not to use a BTEC driver training course promoted by the Association; and
- about the Council’s final decision, made by the Licensing Committee in March 2019, that it would no longer accept BTEC courses because of its concerns about the quality of the training provided.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we believe:
- it is unlikely we would find fault, or
- the fault has not caused injustice to the person who complained, or
- it is unlikely further investigation will lead to a different outcome.
(Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I considered the information Mr Q provided. I considered the information the Council provided. I considered Mr Q’s responses to a draft of this decision.
What I found
- In 2018, the Council’s policy said drivers who wanted to become a licensed private hire or taxi driver must do a BTEC or NVQ in passenger transport (or something similar approved by the Council) within the first year they are licensed. At the time, Mr Q’s Association promoted a three day BTEC course.
- In March 2018 the Council said it would not support any short BTEC course. It said these courses circumvented the stated aim of gaining a qualification that needed a degree of learning with study which would take time to complete and show practical learning.
- Mr Q complained to us on behalf of his Association later in 2018. We wrote a draft decision which we sent to Mr Q and the Council for comment. In it, we said we intended to find fault with the Council for failing to ensure it had all relevant information before suspending its approval of short BTEC courses. But we also said that, despite this fault, we would not pursue the complaint further as it had not caused the Association any injustice.
- In response to the first draft decision, the Council told us it had contacted the training provider for the course promoted by the Association. We then wrote a second draft decision for comment saying we intended to find no fault. That was our eventual decision in November 2018: that there was no fault in the Council’s decision to suspend its acceptance of BTEC courses for licensed drivers. We said it was for the Council to decide what qualifications licensed drivers should have. We also said the Council should confirm its position regarding the courses soon. It did so at the Licensing Committee in March 2019, and it no longer accepts BTEC courses. The report presented to the Committee in March 2019 explained why the Council should no longer accept BTEC courses.
- Mr Q complained to us more recently after he made Freedom of Information requests to the Council. He said the Council had no evidence showing its contact with the training provider referred to above. He also said the training provider had told him the Council had not contacted it. Mr Q said the Council lied to us when it said it had contacted the training provider. The Council denies this. Mr Q also complained about the Licensing Committee’s decision that the Council would no longer use BTEC courses.
- In response to a draft of this decision, Mr Q reiterated his belief that the Council had lied to us. He also reiterated that his association represents private hire and taxi drivers in the Council’s area. He provided statements from some private hire operators who said they are struggling to recruit drivers, and the number of drivers has dropped. Mr Q blames the Council’s refusal to accept BTEC courses for this. Mr Q did not provide any evidence to support his claim, other than referring to a drop in driver numbers.
- Mr Q also said the Council had failed to consult his members on its decision to remove the less costly BTEC training. The information Mr Q provided previously includes the Council’s response to a complaint made about this some time ago. The Council said there was no legal requirement for it to consult about changes to its policy. However, it said it did so via its Taxi Forum, websites, press releases and social media.
- We will not investigate this complaint.
- Mr Q said the Council lied to us to get us to change our decision on his first complaint. The Council denies this. Whether or not this is the case, further investigation by us is unlikely to change the outcome. I say this because even if we had found fault as described in our first draft decision, we would not have pursued the complaint further because Mr Q’s Association did not suffer any injustice. That remains the case. It also remains the case that it is up to the Council to decide what qualifications licensed drivers should have. Further investigation by us will not change this or result in the Council accepting the courses Mr Q’s Association promoted.
- I recognise Mr Q believes the Council’s change in policy caused a drop in driver numbers, and this has had an impact on some of his members who are private hire operators. However, drivers can still qualify with an NVQ during the first year of being licensed. That has not changed. And without evidence to show a direct link between the Council’s policy change and driver numbers, I could not conclude this has caused the injustice Mr Q claims.
- Mr Q is not happy with the Licensing Committee’s decision. When we completed our previous investigation we said the Council should confirm its position regarding the BTEC courses soon. That is what it did having taken account of a report explaining why the Council should no longer accept BTEC courses. I understand Mr Q believes the Council did not properly consult over the changes. The Council was not required to consult over the changes. However, previous complaint correspondence shows the Council did consult via various means. The Council was also aware of Mr Q’s concerns in advance of the Committee meeting. So we are unlikely to find fault with the Council. And, as I said previously, it remains the case that the Association did not suffer any injustice because of the Council’s decision not to use the BTEC course it promoted.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman