Councillors have approved plans that will see taxi drivers in Test Valley asked to keep an eye on vulnerable people on the streets.

The licensing committee of Test Valley Borough Council (TVBC) passed a proposal that makes it mandatory for all taxi and private hire drivers to undertake safeguarding training. Existing drivers will have until the end of October to comply, while new applications will require safeguarding training from May.

During discussions, Councillor David Drew raised the prospect of taxi drivers “keeping an eye out” for the community during their work, and made reference to the death of Sarah Everard, adding that drivers could make sure women walking home at night were safe.

Following debate, the motion passed without dissent.

Councillors met at a meeting of TVBC’s licensing committee on March 18 to discuss the plans over making safeguarding mandatory for all taxi and private hire drivers in the borough.

The report said that those in the industry “can play a pivotal role in identifying signs” of abuse, exploitation and the neglect of children and vulnerable adults, as well as others.

The recommendations suggested making all drivers have to undertake safeguarding training by October 31, or risk having their license revoked. From May 1, all new drivers will also have to demonstrate they have undertaken the training.

Michael White, the head of licensing at TVBC, said: “Licensed taxi and private hire drivers perform a key role in transporting some of our more vulnerable members of society, be they children or vulnerable adults.

“Many, if not all members of this committee will be aware, perhaps regrettably, that there have been instances of child sexual exploitation where the taxi trade has unfortunately played a role. I should stress that there has been no suggestion of any incidents involving the taxi trade in Test Valley and long may that remain so.

“However, as a responsible licensing authority, we do need to ask ourselves if we’re doing enough to make sure taxi drivers are being aware of the issues that surround the general heading of safeguarding.”

He added that authorities across Hampshire are in the process of introducing similar schemes.

Cllr David Drew welcomed the scheme, calling it a “very timely item”.

“Given the Sarah Everard tragedy that we’ve witnessed over the past week, I’m very happy to support this. It’s the right thing to do and anything we can do to increase safeguarding for the residents of Test Valley is spot on.”

He queried if drivers would be able to keep an eye on other vulnerable people in society in light of Ms Everard’s death.

He said: “Because they are well placed and position, can the training evolve so that they have a greater awareness of the surroundings in terms of keeping an eye out for strange people doing funny things that we actually want to prevent?”

“They could spot anything untoward in our towns particularly late at night, particularly ladies trying to get home late at night.”

Michael White confirmed this would be part of the safeguarding training, saying: “I very much see this training developing over a period of time to take account of new concerns, and I think all of the issues Cllr Drew has mentioned are touched on in the existing package of training.”

Cllr Alison Johnston also welcomed the plans, saying: “I’m delighted with this, it’s something I started talking about when I was chair of licensing five years ago.”

She continued: “Taxi drivers have an exclusive reach into society and may see and hear things that are not obvious to the rest of us.”

Cllr Nick Matthews, however, raised concerns that the cost of the training, £25, could be putting a burden on drivers during the pandemic.

He said: “To introduce an additional £25 cost in May, on top of the applicants’ costs, could be a little bit significant, would it be unreasonable to move that date by a month or two or waive the fee for a month or two?

Michael White noted that a delay would be possible, but that the funds were paid directly to the training agency and not administered by Test Valley.

He also said there were “no funds available to provide a £25 grant from the licensing budget” following suggestions from Cllr John Parker, but said the training was “probably the smallest cost” of becoming a licensed driver.

Cllr Drew concurred, saying: “I think we’re coming up with terribly complicated solutions to crack an issue that perhaps does not warrant the lengths to which we’re going to.”

Following debate, the report was passed without dissent.