THE leader of Hyndburn Council has called for a review of all its licensing systems and procedures following the decision to grant a convicted sex offender a taxi licence.
Councillor Peter Britcliffe has written to the council's managing director David Welsby suggesting setting up a Cabinet Action Group led by himself and supported by fellow Conservatives Peter Clarke and Lynn Wilson.
But opposition leader Councillor Graham Jones said the Labour Party had already begun reviewing all taxi licensing decisions taken since 2003 and accused the Conservatives of orchestrating a whitewash.
The Licensing Committee's decision to restore the licence of cabbie Mohammed Altaf caused uproar after it was exclusively revealed in last Friday's Observer.
Altaf, 32, of Swiss Street, Accrington, had been convicted in November of sexually touching a woman over the age of 16.
It followed an incident in which he had touched a passenger on the stomach and grabbed hold of her bra.
Councillor Britcliffe said: "It seems to me an incredible sequence of events. I cannot understand why this even went to the Licensing Committee in the first place, not least because of the very short time since the magistrates made their decision.
"I would have to question why delegated powers were not used to revoke the licence in the first place and feel that this needs reviewing as a matter of urgency.
"I am appalled. It is paramount that we have the confidence of the public in ensuring a safe taxi service in the borough."
But Councillor Jones said: "The events surrounding taxi licensing have not been a surprise to Labour councillors as there have been mutterings and rumblings for many years.
"Our first thoughts are with the victim and her family.
"Taxi drivers in Hyndburn must be in a state of shock. A lot of innocent hard-working people drive taxis and the actions of the council have tarnished their image and reputation. We need to rebuild confidence and trust, both for the paying passenger and those employed in taxi driving."
He added: "Councillor Britcliffe has decided to set up a Cabinet committee of only Conservative councillors to review taxi licensing because he knows there are skeletons in the cupboard.
"We have offered all the help we can but this has been turned down. Labour councillors have been told they can have three observers only.
"This Conservative kangaroo committee does nobody any good and only casts further doubts and continues to undermine public confidence.
"If there is a Labour council on 4 May, the managing director will be asked immediately to suspend any taxi licence where the driver has committed a sexual offence. We will also work closer with the police to avoid the fiasco of a driver leaving custody and re-offending. We must restore confidence in taxis."