New safety checks needed for private hire drivers and city cabbies
Plus thousands back protest over Scottish Government's creative industry cuts; deadline day for short-term let licences; and the UK's hotel of the year floats our boat in the Capital
Councillors were today being asked to give the green light on improved checks on those applying for taxi and private hire licences in the capital – in particular those who were born or have lived outside the UK.
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A report before the City of Edinburgh Council’s Regulatory Committee asks for approval for a revised procedure, following concerns around difficulties faced by the council in obtaining the proper criminal records checks it requires to fulfil its “fundamental duty of the licensing authority to protect public safety.”
Murray Fleming, the general secretary of the Scottish Taxi Federation, which represents hundreds of drivers across Scotland, said: “Private hire is very often the first step for people looking to go into the taxi trade. We fully support any initiative that goes towards safeguarding the travelling public.”
The Issue: The Council must ensure that no licence is granted to any person who is not ‘fit and proper’, so that the public can have confidence in the suitability of licensed drivers.
The report says: “There is a risk that an applicant may challenge this policy in the courts. It is believed that the need to protect the overall public safety mitigates that risk.”
What Happened Before: For several years applicants for licences have been required by law to provide details of any criminal convictions they may have. Police Scotland updates on all UK criminal records but may not be able to provide any checks on those recently immigrated to the UK, or those who have been living abroad for some time. It therefore appeared that those from within the UK were being more stringently checked.
The first changes: The policy was subject to minor changes in 2016 to reflect these concerns and when that happened, the report says, “Council officers analysed available data (dating back to April 2012) on requests for suspension of licensed drivers based on the most serious grounds. As reported to Committee, over half of these requests related to sexual or other violent crimes. The information available showed that at least 50% of the suspension requests were for drivers not born in the UK.”
Since 2016: Since the revised policy was introduced in 2016, a small number of drivers have been unable to obtain criminal conviction documentation from their country of origin. As a result, the Licensing Service receives regular complaints that it discriminates against applicants who are unable to obtain relevant documentation due to circumstances such as civil unrest or refugee status,
There has also been a recent increase in the volume of enquiries regarding applicants who cannot obtain a Criminal Record Check or who have been unable to get such documentation certified (as required by current policy) from particular countries including Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Syria and Afghanistan.
Data analysis for the period between April 2021 and August 2023 showed that 25 of the 35 drivers (71%) were subject to suspension requests concerning licence holders who were not born in or who had spent time outside the UK. “This analysis reinforced a previously identified concern regarding the Council’s limited capacity to check such an applicant’s offending history prior to grant of a licence.”
The report adds: “Licensing officers have recently identified a trend in the submission of documentation and ‘certification’ for these countries, which raises concerns over authenticity. These documents purport to be genuine, but in the absence of the country having an Embassy located in the UK it is not possible for officers to check the authenticity of such documents.”
The new solution: Criminal Record Checks must be obtained within the six months immediately prior to submitting an application. The amended policy suggests the following:
For European Union nationals: Where the Criminal Record Check is not in English, it must be accompanied by a Multilingual Standard Form, or a certified translation carried out by a person qualified to do so under the law of a Member State.
For all others: The Criminal Record Check provided must be translated into English and verified by the relevant UK based Embassy, Consulate or High Commission. Alternatively, the document can be verified by way of an Apostille Certificate if the document was issued by a designated authority in a country where the Apostille Convention is in force. The convention was adopted in 1961 and currently has 115 member countries, including the UK.
Anyone who fails to complete the checks will have their application returned as incomplete. Once approved, the council intends to communicate the policy to taxi and private hire companies.
CREATIVE CRISIS?: Thousands of people have signed an online petition demanding that the Scottish Government restores a promised £6.6m uplift to Creative Scotland funding.
Launched by non-profit Campaign for the Arts, the petition follows news that Culture Secretary Angus Robertson has confirmed the Scottish Government will not deliver on an earlier funding promise, which campaigners describe as “extraordinary short-changing of Scottish culture midway through the year.”
Around 40 Edinburgh arts organisations, including the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Traverse Theatre, Scottish Poetry Library, Edinburgh Printmakers, and Edinburgh International Book Festival, receive funding from Creative Scotland.
The petition states: “In February, thousands joined our campaign against plans for a £6.6 million cut to Creative Scotland, the public body responsible for investing in Scottish arts and culture. Ministers responded by abandoning the cut and instead heralded a “£6.6 million uplift … supporting the arts and cultural sector at this challenging time. But seven months on, the £6.6 million pledged to Creative Scotland hasn’t been delivered. And now the Culture Secretary Angus Robertson has told them (Creative Scotland) that it won’t be.”
“Scotland’s cultural sector has not fully recovered from the pandemic, during which it was one of the hardest-hit sectors. For many, incomes have fallen and reserves have dried up. Now, in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis, costs are rising and uncertainty is rife. This is not the time to cut vital, core funding on which artists and organisations depend.” Within 48 hours, around 12,000 people had signed the petition at Petition to the Scottish Government: deliver the arts funding you promised (campaignforthearts.org)
YOUR EDINBURGH BRIEFING
UNIFORM ‘SHAME’: Growing numbers of children are missing school because their families cannot afford proper uniform, the head of a charity has warned. Julia Grindley, who runs Edinburgh School Uniform Bank, has told city councillors that she knows of families whose children have no shoes to wear to school so they keep them off “because they are ashamed”. Others, she said, miss school because they have one set of clothes which don’t dry in time after a downpour. The charity, backed by Green councillor Katrina Faccenda, is calling for a review of uniform policy and for clothing grants to be more accessible.
PARK TRAFFIC BAN: Through traffic could be banned from Holyrood Park to make it better and safer for walking and cycling as part of a vision for the park’s development over the next 10 years. Historic Environment Scotland, which manages the park, is proposing a substantial reduction or complete ban on through traffic, while maintaining vehicular access to keep the green space accessible to all. The Institute of Advanced Motorists has called for a study into the impact of such a move on surrounding streets, reports the Edinburgh Evening News, amid concerns of increased congestion and pollution.
CAIRN RESTORATION: Author and campaigner Sara Sheridan is encouraging people to support the restoration of the Holyrood Park cairn raised to Margaret Hall as part of the Historic Environment Scotland consultation on the park’s future. The author of the Fair Botanist, whose work includes mapping Scotland according to women’s history, also wants to see an interpretation board telling the story of Hall who was murdered by her “debauched and profligate wretch” husband in 1720.
PRINCES STREET: The biggest single investment in Princes Street since the Johnnie Walker Experience is set to come a step closer. The £100million Ruby Hotel development comes before the city council’s planning committee on Wednesday. City officials are recommending that the committee approve the proposals for the seven-floor, 300-bedroom luxury hotel, which would create 250 jobs, including the demolition of the former Next building. For more on the sale of the nearby Debenhams site, see The Business below.
RUSSIAN CYBER ATTACK: The Edinburgh Trams website has been hacked by Russian hackers NoName57 who target organisations that support Ukraine. The DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack took the site offline temporarily last week and is being investigated by Police Scotland. It is understood no sensitive data was compromised.
D-DAY FOR SELF-CATERERS: The eyes of Scotland’s tourism industry – especially those operating in the self-catering sector – are focused today on the consequences of new legislation to regulate so-called Airbnb-style short-term lets with the deadline for applications passing yesterday. The tourism sector has warned they fear a major reduction in self-catering accommodation will have major implications for an industry which supports 31,000 jobs in the Capital alone.
In Edinburgh, city councillors were today expected to approve recommendations from officials on how to enforce the new regulations. Those operating without a licence can be charged with committing a criminal offence, with fines of up to £2,500. In the past few days, Police Scotland have expressed concern at their ability to provide resources to enforce the regulations.
Councillor Cammy Day, council leader, said: “We’re committed to ensuring that everyone benefits from Edinburgh’s thriving visitor economy, but this must be managed, and it has to be sustainable – and these fair and effective short term let controls are an important step in the right direction.”
The council confirmed that by 2pm on Friday they had received a total of 2,150 applications - up from the last available public register figures, on 18 September, which had 703 applications. Of that number, 369 had been processed. Only 80 applications were for secondary (or entire home) lettings and of these only around 22 had been approved, including 10 which were temporary licences. The remainder of the applications approved – 206 in all – were largely for home sharing and spare room lets.
One leading campaigner told The Inquirer: “We knew that hundreds were tactically planning to put in their applications at the last minute. Most operators have low expectations of getting through a process we see as designed to drive people out of business, but at least by putting in an application they can continue to trade until their fate is eventually decided.”
BONFIRE NIGHT ACTION: Dispersal zones where police have special powers to break up groups gathered in the streets are to be put in place around the city again for Bonfire Night, on 5th November, in a bid to tackle disorder. The city council and police action plan will also include measures such as paying for youth club trips to attractions such as Alton Towers to help keep young people off the streets in some of the worst affected areas. The programmes have proved largely effective in recent years, although problems were higher than normal last November.
HOTEL FLOATS TO TOP: Fingal, the luxury floating hotel berthed at Leith, has been crowned ‘AA Hotel of the Year Scotland 2023-24’. Opened in 2019, the former Northern Lighthouse Board tender was developed and is managed by the award-winning team at The Royal Yacht Britannia. In 2022, Fingal was awarded the top five-star rating from the AA for the hotel and two AA Rosettes for its Lighthouse Restaurant, joining an exclusive list of only 43 five-star hotels with two AA Rosettes across the whole of the UK and Northern Ireland.
LEZ PREPARATION GETS UNDERWAY: Work will soon begin to prepare the city for enforcement of Edinburgh’s Low Emission Zone (LEZ), which starts on 1 June, 2024. This month, contractors will start installing signage around the LEZ city centre boundary to help drivers plan their journeys. Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras will be installed in late 2023/early 2024 and a mobile enforcement vehicle will be active from June 2024. Penalties will start at £60 for non-compliant vehicles driving within the zone though this is reduced by 50% to £30 if paid within 14 days.
RISING STARS: Some of Edinburgh’s future virtuosi will show their talent in concert on Saturday. Morningside School of Music’s annual event will involve students performing a number of different instruments and styles at the Sacred Heart Church Hall on Lauriston Street at 7pm.The school is one of the biggest independent music schools in Scotland, with around 700 students and dozens of teachers. Tickets can be purchased at Morningside School of Music (stripe.com)
HOTEL OPPORTUNITY: As reported by the Inquirer, the former Debenhams department store, at 109-112 Princes Street, is now back on the market for offers around £50m after being rejected by Legal & General over funding and prolonged planning issues. JLL is now selling the property which has existing planning consents for the redevelopment and change of use to a hotel of up to 210-beds and extending to c.116,00 sq ft over nine floors. The proposed hotel will benefit from a rooftop bar/restaurant with uninterrupted views over Princes Street Gardens and on to Edinburgh Castle. Kerr Young, Head of UK National Hotel Transactions at JLL, said: “109 Princes Street provides an outstanding hotel development opportunity. We have worked with our clients over recent years to optimise the design and density of the proposed scheme, and we anticipate an exceptional level of interest from a variety of owner operators, developers and investors from across the globe.”
BOOST FOR NEW TOWN SITE: The New Town North project – on the massive gap site behind the demolished RBS building in Dundas Street – has been given a vital shot of funding. Ediston Property Investment Company (EPIC) plc has sold its entire property portfolio – including Haddington and Stirling Retail Park - to RI UK 1, a subsidiary of US corporation Realty Income Corporation, for £196.8m.
EPIC plc, is a REIT listed on the London Stock Exchange, with assets of £357m. The sale, a reduction from the original cash consideration of £200m, is the result of a strategic review by Ediston which began in March. The sale was finally approved by shareholders last Friday.
While the REIT is based in London, it has strong Edinburgh roots and is chaired by William Hill, one of the country’s leading commercial property entrepreneurs.
Danny O’Neill founded Ediston, the Edinburgh-based property investment company, based in St Andrew Square, in 2004. It now has a house-building presence across Scotland. Mr O’Neill and Calum Bruce have been the REIT’s investment managers.
It is understood that Ediston has made this significant disposal at it looks at the market and considers the prospects in central Edinburgh at the site of the former RBS technology building in Dundas Street.
Knight Frank valued the REIT interests as of 15 August 2023 to be £207m. The assets include retail park premises and warehouses in Daventry, Wrexham, Sunderland, Widnes, Barnsley, and, north of the border, in Coatbridge, Stirling Retail Park and Haddington Retail Park.
Ediston were advised by Dickson Minto in Charlotte Square and London.
The cash pile will allow Ediston to pay down banking debt, return funds to key investors, but also to focus its attention on one of the most lucrative gap sites in the city. The New Town North site, which was acquired with Orion Capital Managers, forms part of Ediston’s £515m development pipeline.
SHORTAGE OF A GRADE CONTINUES: Edinburgh continues to have the lowest level of available Grade A office space compared to average annual leasing. Market analysis from CoStar for the past five years found more than three quarters of the space under construction in Edinburgh is pre-leased, leaving only 85,000sq ft available at 99 Dundas Street in the New Town. Existing buildings with the largest amounts of space available include Saltire Court on Castle Terrace and 6 St Andrew Square, following the departure of abrdn.
MORE AUDITORS JOIN TOP FIRMS: The battle for accounting talent is still going on. Audit, tax and consulting firm RSM has strengthened its workforce throughout Scotland with a record intake of 57 trainees, a 16% increase. The recruits will be spread across the Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Lerwick offices. The majority of Scotland’s trainees (41) will be in audit, the others are spread across accounting insight advisory, corporate tax, private client services, and economics consulting.
Alex Tait, RSM UK’s managing partner for Scotland said: “This latest group of new trainees is a critical element of a sustainable growth programme that looks to the future. I’ve enjoyed a tremendously rewarding career at RSM spanning 27 years, so have first-hand experience of the benefits working for the firm can bring.”
Nationally, RSM UK has recruited a record high of 769 new students across the UK in 2023, surpassing its previous record intake in 2022 (723) by 6% as the firm continues to invest in its long-term growth plans.
CELTIC CELEBRATION: A cross-border business celebration takes place at the Assembly Rooms in George Street, Edinburgh on Thursday when the Causeway: Ireland Scotland Business Exchange holds its annual awards, supported by headline sponsor Johnnie Walker Princes Street. The evening will celebrate outstanding business achievements across Scotland, Ireland, and Northern Ireland.
DRIVING FORWARD: Newbridge-based McNicoll Vehicle Hire has been bought by Avis Budget Group. The company operates with a varied fleet comprising of vans and cars, and the acquisition sees Avis Budget Group grow its footprint in Scotland, and in particular its van offering. McNicoll staff will continue to build and maintain relationships with the Scottish customer base.
FIFTY YEARS OF FOLKIES: Almost every name from Scotland, England and Ireland’s rich tradition of folk and roots music has appeared at Edinburgh Folk Club, which was created by the legendary folk song collector and singer Hamish Henderson. The club, which meets on Wednesday evenings at the Ukrainian Community Centre in Royal Terrace, is celebrating its 50th anniversary season. The anniversary night [that first headline concert was by guitarist Mike Whellans on 3 October 1973 in 23 George Square], is on Wednesday with special guest Robin Laing, known as Scotland’s whisky bard. The following Wednesday one of Ireland’s greatest singers, Andy Irvine, formerly of Planxty and then with Paul Brady, is guest. While Josie Duncan, from Lewis, winner of BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award in 2017, is guest performer the following Wednesday.
SCI-FI GEEK-FEST: Expect sci-fi costumes galore, as Dr Who star Matt Smith, Lord of the Rings stars Elijah Wood and Andy Serkis, and many more names from the worlds of science fiction and fantasy appear at Comic Con Scotland. Saturday-Sunday, Royal Highland Centre, Ingliston.
GOOD HABITS: The musical Sister Act featuring Matilda the Musical star Landi Oshinowo and a soundtrack by eight-time Oscar winner Alan Menken returns to the stage. Monday-Saturday, Festival Theatre.
OH MIRIAM: From the voice of the Cadbury’s Caramel bunny to Lady Whiteadder and Professor Sprout, Miriam Margolyes has been there and done it all, dropping plenty of f-bombs and truth bombs along the way. Outrageous tales are guaranteed as she recounts some of her adventures in Oh Miriam Live! 7.30pm Saturday, Usher Hall.
MOON SHINE: The Waterboys bring their timeless hits such as The Whole of the Moon to How Long Will I Love You back to the Usher Hall tomorrow, followed next week at the same venue by fellow 1980s indie survivors Deacon Blue. The Waterboys, tomorrow, and Deacon Blue, 10 October, Usher Hall.
QUICK BITES & SIPS
COCKTAIL TIME: Britain’s biggest cocktail event returns offering £5 cocktails to wristband holders at more than 100 bars and a dedicated cocktail village on Festival Square. Edinburgh Cocktail Week, 6-15 October, various venues.
VEGGIE STARS: Hendersons is celebrating its 60th birthday in style with an entry in the prestigious Michelin Guide. The much-loved vegetarian institution is now based on Barclay Place, by Bruntsfield Links, having left its longtime home in Hanover Street, and is run by Barrie Henderson, the grandson of its founder. The Michelin Guide praises its “skillfully cooked” mains, “unfussy” puddings for “sweet-toothed diners” and “lovely neighbourhood feel”.
TURNING JAPANESE: Newcomer Miju promises to be a strong addition to the city’s growing Japanese food offerings. The new restaurant, on Dalry Road, opened this month and serves up popular Japanese dishes such sushi, ramen, and donburi.
SOME EXTRA DIARY DATES FOR YOU
Grab tickets while you can for The National Theatre of Scotland’s bold feminist and gender fluid reworking of Bram Stoker’s horror classic. Described by Mark Brown in The Telegraph as “an extraordinary, feminist coup de theatre” it promises to be one of the theatrical events of the year. Dracula: Mina’s Reckoning is at the Festival Theatre on 11-14 October.
Have you heard the story about?…. the Scottish International Storytelling Festival begins on 13 October and runs until 29 October. There is a massive array of incredible tales being told under the theme #RightToBeHuman. Look out for more details in the next week’s Inquirer.
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