York council officers scrap key Uber meeting – against the express wishes of councillors

6 Dec 2018 @ 6.18 pm
| News, Politics

Councillors wanted to quiz officials over two important taxi issues at a meeting this month.

But council officers have cancelled that meeting – against the express wishes of its chairman and elected members.

The decision has left the chair “very frustrated and disappointed”.

And coming soon after the major row over perceived council officer interference in the running of another committee, Cllr Sam Lisle said:

  • It obviously invites the question, who’s really running this authority?

Cancelled by officials

Cllr Sam Lisle
The next gambling and licensing committee meeting was due to take place on December 10.

“The meeting has been cancelled by officers despite councillors explicitly saying they didn’t want it to be cancelled,” Cllr Lisle told YorkMix.

He wanted the meeting to ask officers about the latest legal position on Uber.

The global taxi app firm lost its licence to operate in York in December 2017.

And last month, York Private Hire Association obtained legal advice from expert barrister Gerald Gouriet QC that “Uber and Uber drivers are acting as unlicensed operators” in the city.

As chair of the gambling and licensing committee, Cllr Lisle asked for officers to give a verbal update on the council’s response to that advice at the December 10 meeting.

Such a statement would “put on public record about what the council is doing and it would give councillors the opportunity to ask any questions they have,” he said.

It would also allow members of the taxi trade and the general public to ask questions too.

Another important issue

A file photograph of taxis at York Station. Photograph: YorkMix
In addition Cllr Lisle asked if the meeting could get a response to another important licensing issue.

Back in September YorkMix revealed how taxi drivers were operating in York without up-to-date criminal record checks due to a council mistake.

He wanted an update on the council’s response after auditors said the lapse posed “a potential risk to the travelling public”.

Yet despite this request “they were still asking if I would agree to cancel the meeting.

“I said I’m not going to agree as chair to cancel the meeting. I’ll take it to members of the committee and see what their views are.”

He emailed other members of the committee and the ‘vast majority’ wanted the meeting to go ahead.

Cllr Lisle said:

  • I then had a phone call from a very senior officer saying that they will use their powers to cancel the meeting, because they don’t believe there are any substantive items for the committee to consider.

    The argument for that was that the gambling and licensing committee do not deal with any policy matters, they only deal with individual licensing applications.

    My very strong response to that was that this committee deals with policy matters every other meeting.

In the last year it has dealt with policies on driver training, animal welfare and licensing in the wake of the Gambling Act.

‘Incredibly disappointed’

The gambling and licensing committee of City of York Council at its November meeting. Photograph: YouTube
“Officers cancelled the meeting anyway – against the wishes of the democratically elected councillors who sit on the committee,” Cllr Lisle said.

He was “incredibly disappointed” by the decision. “I think it does nothing for this council’s reputation in terms of openness and transparency.

“I think it’s going to leave a lot of questions unanswered for the taxi trade and the general public.

“And it obviously invites the question, who’s really running this authority?”

Cllr Lisle also serves on the audit and governance committee.

At a meeting of this committee in 2017 councillors voted to make public a report that was highly critical of the authority. That went against the council officers’ recommendation.

Officers then challenged councillors to justify their decision to vote in that way. It was a move that caused outrage, as it was seen as an example of council officers overstepping their powers.

Cllr Lisle said at that meeting “officers were basically dictating the state of play”, and added that this latest decision “just shows that this council hasn’t learned its lessons, in terms of trying to keep councillors in the dark and officers trying to run the show”.

He told YorkMix: “When it’s something as contentious as Uber’s operation in York, I think it’s really important that you do follow the proper process – and you do it in the most open and transparent way that you possibly can,” he said.

Due to the cancellation, the next meeting of the gambling and licensing committee will take place in February.

City of York Council’s response

Neil Ferris, corporate director of economy and place at City of York Council, said:

“The gambling, licensing and regulatory committee agenda had no items requiring a decision by the committee: only two items were proposed for information only.

“Having consulted with the leader of the council and the chair of the licensing committee, the decision was taken not to hold the scheduled committee meeting because officers had committed to provide the members with the information which the chair had requested, making a formal meeting unnecessary.

“If, when considering items for determination at a future meeting of the licensing committee, officers are asked by the chair to bring forward these items for public consideration, then clearly that would be accommodated.

“In respect of the constitution, should a chair or one third of the elected committee members require a special meeting in order to consider specific business, then that meeting would be held to consider that only.

“However, it would be unusual that such a special meeting would be called solely to consider items for information only rather than determination, as items for information can wait until the next scheduled meeting.”

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