City badgered over disabled car charges

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THE national equality watchdog was called in to investigate the decision to charge people £20 to apply for disabled blue badges, it emerged today.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) wrote to the city council on four separate occasions to express concern about the way that the charge was introduced for the badge, which allows people with mobility issues to park closer to their destinations.

It was called in to investigate following concerns about the lack of consultation regarding the introduction of the charge, and the failure of council chiefs to investigate what the impact would be on inequality.

The investigation by the EHRC has continued for more than a year and one of its most recent letter exchanges called on the council to review the way it carries out “equality impact assessments”, as well as the training it provides to officials to make decisions.

It also called for the council to provide more training to councillors on how they scrutinise equality-related issues before coming to a decision.

Labour councillor Ewan Aitken, who has lodged a motion for a full council meeting this week calling for a full report on how the council has responded to the concerns, said: “The bottom line is not only could this have increased inequality, but there was also an assumption by the council that they did not need to carry out a full equality impact assessment because it is only £20. But for those with disabilities, this really matters.

“This shows a particularly dismissive attitude to those that face the challenge of disability and the level of desperation they have to make cuts means they are willing to put to one side what would be a common-sense approach.

“The EHRC do not get involved unless they see a real problem. So if they are saying they have a concern we need to sit up and listen.”

The concern was raised by the EHRC following a complaint from disability charity Ecas.

David Griffiths, chief executive of Ecas, said: “It is interesting that one of the things [EHRC] are saying is are councillors asking sufficient questions? And if not, is it because they are not being told what they should be doing in terms of equality impact assessments?

“The reason for raising this a year ago was to try to help get better systems in place for the next round of budget cuts. It is not clear that has happened.”

Edinburgh’s decision to introduce a charge for the blue badge followed similar decisions by other Scottish cities, including Aberdeen and Dundee, to introduce a charge.

A spokesman for the EHRC said: “We wrote to Edinburgh City Council asking for evidence of their impact assessment process. We reviewed this and made further recommendations and asked the council to update us, which they have, and the commission is now satisfied that they have made changes to further promote understanding of equality impact assessment within council governance.”

A council spokeswoman said that the impact on equality was again looked at and is to be published following discussion with the Edinburgh Transport Advisory Group.

mblackley@edinburghnews.com