A BOROUGH is to strengthen its training for taxi and private hire drivers on sexual abuse awareness and county lines drug gangs.

Hyndburn Council is to adopt strict new government guidelines aimed at ensuring customers remain safe.

Its Cabinet approved amendments to its Taxi and Private Hire Licensing Policy on Thursday.

Health and Communities boss Cllr Munsif Dad told senior councillor colleagues the changes were supported by drivers.

The Cabinet approves the introduction of an updated training programme in line with new Department for Transport (DfT) requirements.

A report to councillors told them: "The purpose of setting standards is to protect children and vulnerable adults, and by extension the wider public, when using taxis and private hire vehicles.

"The DfT has stated that the statutory guidance has been issued because 'there is evidence to support the view that taxis and private hire vehicles are a high-risk environment.

"In terms of risks to passengers, this can be seen in abuse and exploitation of children and vulnerable adults facilitated and in some cases perpetrated by the trade and the number of sexual crimes reported which involve taxi and private hire vehicle drivers.

"Links between the trade and child sexual abuse and exploitation have been established in many areas and other investigations continue.

"On the whole Hyndburn Borough Council's Policy aligns quite well with the new guidance.

"The new guidance does require some amendments to our policy."

The changes include:

* disclosure and barring checks will need to be carried out on drivers every six months instead of the current three years;

* licence holders should be required to notify the issuing authority within 48 hours of an arrest and release, charge or conviction of any sexual offence, any offence involving dishonesty or violence and any motoring offence instead of the current seven days;

* all licence holders will be required to undertake safeguarding training which must include 'County Lines' training;

* private hire operators will be required to keep a register of staff booking and despatching of vehicles; and

* private hire operators will be required to produce a policy on employing ex-offenders.

Cllr Dad said: "The changes have been welcomed by the drivers at a meeting with the council's licensing committee.

"They think the changes are a good idea."

Council leader Cllr Miles Parkinson said: "I think this kind of training programme is the right thing going forward."