Saturday 17 December 2011

Carmarthenshire and the Equalities Act

The County Council's Policy and Resources Scrutiny Committee will turn its attention in the New Year to its draft "Strategic Equality Plan" and consider the responses received after the completion of a consultation in 2011.

This is needed to bring the council in line with the Equalities Act 2010, the aim of which is to prevent discrimination on the grounds of sex; race; sexual orientation; religion; age; disability; gender reassignment and pregnancy and maternity.

The draft report considered by the committee back in October notes that on the basis of the 2001 census, Carmarthenshire is 98% white; 58% are of working age, and that apparently almost half of those of working age also have a disability. Hard to believe, but that's statistics for you. 75% claimed to be Christian, although as we know less than 10% actually go to a place of worship regularly.

The statistics contain no data on sexual orientation, gender reassignment or pregnancy and maternity.

After pages and pages of padding, the report eventually gets down to telling us what this will mean in practical terms for the council. One of those is that it will have to carry out equalities impact assessments when making policy and financial decisions. The report states:

Assessments are required of ‘policies’ which is understood broadly to embrace the full range of functions, activities (including service delivery) and decisions for which the council is responsible. This includes both current policies and new policies under development.

To what extent the council is currently compliant with the Act is unclear, and Caebrwyn has noted that a Freedom of Information request has been made to ask for disclosure of the equalities impact assessments carried out in respect of the council's Christmas Toybox Appeal and its decision to provide £1.4m worth of financial aid to Towy Community Church's bowling alley project. A response is due on 10 January, but if the council's track record is anything to go by, the response will be (a) late, and (b) refused.

In the case of the toybox appeal, the council, police, NHS and others have been busy collecting toys which have then been handed over to three fundamentalist evangelical churches for distribution to families in need. 

Bearing in mind that those of us who do not share these churches' beliefs (rather more than 90% if attendance at a place of religious worship is anything to go by) face an eternity of conscious punishment and/or hellfire, according to their websites, you might want to think twice before nipping along to a branch of the Carmarthenshire Taliban to pick up some presents for the kids. And you may feel more than a little nervous about approaching them if you are Muslim, Jewish, atheist, agnostic, a same-sex parent, divorced, sexually promiscuous, if you've had an abortion or possibly even if you are a follower of the Anti-Christ (pace the Revd. Ian Paisley, or Catholics to you and me).

It will be interesting to see if an impact assessment was carried out before launching this appeal, just as it will in the case of the bowling alley because council tax payers are effectively being made to subsidise the building of a new church (sorry, auditorium) to house Towy Community Church.

It also remains to be seen whether the Equalities Act 2010 will have any effect on members of the council's ruling Executive Board. Two weeks ago Cllr Gwynne Wooldridge, whose portfolio includes education, stood up to tell councillors that in his view there was only one book that mattered: the Bible. How would he or other councillors feel if we had, say, a Muslim member of the board who said that about the Koran? 

The county council is not known for its sense of humour, but there does seem to be some subversive at work who delights in dishing out top jobs to the most unlikely candidates. In the case of Gwynne Wooldridge, the old dinosaur was made "Young People's Champion". Pam Palmer was given the job of "Modernising Local Government"; if this were the nineteenth century she might be considered mildly progressive. "Older People's Champion" is Kevin Madge, the Labour leader who was much too busy to meet a deputation of frail and elderly people from Llandeilo when they came to present him with a petition against the closure of their Day Club.

It is unclear whether we have an "Equalities Champion", but if any of the board members are closet Klu Klux Klan members, it's theirs for the taking.



Mrs Angry said...

It is already a legal requirement for your council's policies to be compliant with equalities legislation: this is not a matter of choice.

I cannot believe that they do not already review every policy decision with a standard process of consideration as to whether it would require a specific equalities impact assessment: this is surely necessary in order to protect the council against legal action on the basis of discrimination - failing to comply with the rights in law of the very same groups you mention above.

Wake up people of Camarthenshire, and hold your council to account: even here in Broken Barnet controversial policy decisions have been reversed after judges have ruled that equalities issues have been ignored, for example in the case of an attempt to withdraw wardens from sheltered housing,where no such assessment had been made.

Anonymous said...

The Equalities Act 2010 was consolidating legislation enacted to try and tackle the failure of piecemeal equalities legislation of old. Like the economy, it doesn't really seem to be working very well.

This Christmas, instead of vegetating in front of the TV, why not take your old ma for a walk along the county's public footpaths? Then come back to a nice sherry and browse the council's web site. That will soon show you the potential for litigation against local authorities.

Cneifiwr said...

I may be wrong, Anon, but I don't think Carmarthenshire's website will help very much here. The sections dealing with equality and diversity were last updated before the Act came into force. The existing policy dates from 2008 and was last updated in early 2010, again before the new Act came in.

It looks as though the council is very belatedly getting round to putting something in place. I'm sure if you ask them, they will say they have been compliant all the way along; it's just they didn't have a policy or procedures in place.