Thousands of taxi and bus drivers are to be trained to be on the lookout for child sexual exploitation.
Derbyshire County Council is looking to train some 3,400 taxi and bus drivers.
In a report compiled for councillors, officers wrote that given the “heavy reliance” on taxis transporting vulnerable people, it was appropriate to give “due weight” to “ensuring their safety”.
As a result it intends to give all drivers safeguarding training, making them well-equipped to be on the look-out for possible child sexual exploitation.
A county council spokesperson was reluctant to say that taxi and bus drivers are “best placed” to be on the look out for potential safeguarding issues, but that it was keen that the subject was widely understood, so that early signs can be caught.
A spokesman said: “Awareness of the exploitation of young and vulnerable people is a national issue for which we all have a responsibility.
“One of Derbyshire County Council’s stated priorities is to keep children and adults safe, and we and our partners in the county’s safeguarding boards will never be complacent about that.
“That is why we are developing a new Transport Safeguarding Standards Framework, a key part of which is a training programme for external operators who are contracted to deliver services such as the transport of children and vulnerable adults.
“The council has robust safeguarding procedures and ensures that its staff are trained to protect service users and identify possible signs of exploitation. We also need to ensure that contracted operators have the appropriate level of awareness and safety training.
“It is not necessarily the case that bus and taxi drivers are ‘best placed’ to look out for potential issues – we all need to play our part. However, they do provide a vital service which around 10,000 children, young people and vulnerable adults in Derbyshire rely upon.
“While we work with operators to ensure that contracted drivers have Disclosure and Barring Service approval to transport children, our research has shown that only around 20 per cent of passenger transport companies in the county provide what we would regard as adequate safeguarding training.
“This training programme has been developed from experience and best practice from across the country. It will aim to ensure our contracted transport operators and their employees clearly understand the issues and how it can help them to help us to better protect children, young people and vulnerable adults in Derbyshire.”
The county council provides home-to-school transport for 6,000 students; along with services for 2,000 children and young adults with special needs and disabilities; and 1,500 adults with disability or age-related conditions.
Council officers wrote in the report: “Although reasonable measures were already in place to mitigate against safeguarding allegations at the time of the review, (such as enhanced police checks and dissemination of safeguarding cards for taxi and bus drivers), it was recognised that more could be done to improve and implement auditable systems that would be aligned with corporate safeguarding practices.”
Officers described the challenge of training nearly 3,500 taxi and bus drivers as “onerous” due to fact that they are spread over a wide geographical area.
The county council has estimated that training is required for 800 bus drivers; 400 passenger assistants; 2,200 taxi drivers; along with 240 taxi and minibus companies and 40 large bus companies.
It also estimates that only 20 per cent of the current taxi and bus driver stock have any form of child sexual exploitation training.
Eddie Bisknell , Local Democracy Reporting Service