People in Edinburgh will be aware of the functions and responsibilities of the city council. One of the key areas in the operation of the council is the role of the committees. Most are self-explanatory, but when I was first elected, I was appointed to the Stalinist-sounding regulatory committee.
The role of the regulatory committee and its sub-committee licensing, is to issue licences to various bodies, shops, services, marches and events. Some don’t come up that often. Did you know you need to apply for licences to perform hypnotism or to use a performing animal?
Understandably, you would need a licence to operate a skin-piercing and tattoo parlour or to be a second-hand metal dealer. Others such as street trading or late-night catering licences also need to be monitored.
Most licences are dealt with under delegated powers by our experienced and dedicated officers. But when they are contentious they are referred to the nine councillors who make up the committee for our determination.
The most regular area where we make decisions on the granting or refusing of licences or their renewal is when it comes to Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs). We hear from the applicants, usually the landlord or their representative, and the opponents of an HMO licence followed by questions from committee members. We try to find a way forward and that largely is encouraging mediation from both parties. I would say nine times out of ten we are successful.
The most onerous part of being on the committee is when we determine whether a person is suitable for a licence to operate or continue as a taxi or private hire cab (PHC) driver. We do have applicants who have had criminal convictions, often when they were younger, and now want to change their lives around. It is not an easy decision as at the forefront of our minds is that drivers are essentially ambassadors for our city in that for visitors to Edinburgh, taxi and PHC drivers are often their first port of call. Crucially, however, we have to be totally confident that if a licence is issued to a potential driver he or she will not be a risk to public safety. Making that call is never easy and not taken lightly.
A colleague said that it is like sitting on a monthly basis on jury duty. Indeed the committee is sub-judicial and we never make a decision along party-political lines. This committee has to be seen as a body which is totally independent. When you are dealing with people’s everyday lives, livelihoods and aspirations and making judgements on individuals it is a responsibility which has to be taken very seriously.
Councillor Dominic Heslop, Tory Pentland Hills Ward councillor