Equality Impact Assessments are carried out by local councils to judge how their decisions will affect some of the most marginal communities in their area. But there are calls now to scrap the process as part of the Tory mantra on scrapping red tape.
I know that some authorities have turned EIAs into the worst extremes of political correctness gone mad.
But the truth is that councils (and the Government too please) should be considering how their decisions will impact on all within their area. That’s not to say that a negative effect is an automatic bar to a proposal. But people taking those decisions should understand who will be affected, what that effect will be and what has been done to try to mitigate the adverse consequences. All too often councils and others ignore the consequences of their decisions.
Recently, my council had a decision to take on how to cope with the government’s decision to impose a cut in council tax benefit. In essence, should the council pass on the cut to recipients, forcing them to pay around £250 or more, or should the council keep the current scheme and find the money from other budgets?
The Conservative Leader and Finance cabinet members were proposing the latter. But the Leader admitted he had not bothered to talk to anyone likely to be affected and the Finance portfolio holder admitted that she “knew nothing about these people” – referring to benefit recipients.
Well why on earth had they not bothered to find out? It wouldn’t mean that they would automatically be proposing a different policy (although I hope they might). But it would mean that they would better understand the consequences of their actions.
Such analysis shouldn’t be a box ticking exercise. Little good ever came from one of those. Why should we be asking an officer sitting behind a desk to decide what the impact will be on a particular group, community or individua. Surely the council should be going out and asking residents what a decision would mean to them.
Recently there was a proposal in my town to relocate a council one stop shop to the local library building. It would save money and mean that neither service would have to suffer further cuts. All well and good. Except that many older people still pay their rent in cash on a weekly basis at the one stop shop and the library building is at the top of a short but very steep slope. So elderly residents were faced with getting a taxi a few yards up the hill. The box-ticking didn’t spot this. A proper assessment would have led the council to find a different way for tenants to pay their rent. The re-location could still have gone ahead but there would have been fewer problems as a result.
So whilst I would be happy to accept that desk-bound box-tickers could be done away with, I would want the requirement for councils to properly consider the consequences of their actions to remain an integral part of the decision making process.