Monday, 28 July 2008

A whole new language is required

This is in the nature of an old man's bitch at the way things are going. It has to be here in full rather than just linked as it is behind a subscription only screen. Read it slowly. Stop for a sip of the amber nectar as required. When a sentence is incomprehensible - there are a number - go back a bit and start again. I have done such as I recommend and only about three words in five come across. What the heck is it all about? I accept that the changes in our country are significant since we became the last refuge for the worlds' oppressed but just how did things get so bad that arrangements as I think I understand here have had to be made? Where went our ideas of right and wrong that these maters had to be put into concrete form? And how was such a matter put into language that, I am sure, the majority of those  concerned will never ever understand.

OK - here we go.

    • Monday July 28 2008

Another chapter in the ongoing David and Goliath struggle between Southall Black Sisters (SBS) and Ealing Council came to a dramatic end recently when the council withdrew from the judicial review hearing at the high court in the middle of a two day hearing. One-third of SBS funding has been provided by Ealing since the 80s to provide domestic violence services to black and minority women. Last year, Ealing announced that it was going to use that same pot of money, £100,000pa to provide a borough-wide service for all women facing domestic violence because it had identified gaps in provision, most notably for white women – a laudable aim, if properly funded.

They embarked on this course of action without carrying out a race equality impact assessment (EIA) on how their change of policy affect black and minority women, which is a statutory obligation. On legal advice, users of SBS services started judicial review proceedings. At the eleventh hour, the council caved in, delayed the tendering process, carried out an impact assessment and as suspected, came to the same conclusions as before but threw in an additional £50,000 to deal with any possible negative impact.

At this point, it became obvious that the council was not for turning. SBS realised that it may never regain their financial support but that important principles were at stake which could benefit other specialist organisations locked in a similar struggle with their local authorities and decided to continue with legal proceedings. TheEquality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) agreed that guidance was necessary and intervened as an interested third party, thus lending the proceedings further gravitas. The case sets a precedent especially in relation to the cohesion agenda and duties under the race relations legislation.

The council's actions amounted to policy based evidence gathering rather than evidence-based policy development. The judge ruled that the council should have had due regard to its duties under the race relations act which means carrying out an EIA before policy is changed and not after the event to buttress its case.

The judge also ruled that there was no dichotomy between cohesion and specialist services, a very important clarification at a time when other councils are using this argument to cut their specialist services. He argued, like SBS had done, that providing such services promoted equality and therefore, cohesion. This was in stark opposition to the council's position that "single" group funding reinforced segregation. By a delightful coincidence, Darra Singh, the author of the report, Our Shared Future (pdf), published by the Commission for Integration and Cohesion, is also the chief executive of Ealing council. He was unable to implement one of the key recommendations of his report on his own patch, an irony much appreciated by SBS and its supporters.

One of the more ridiculous arguments made by Ealing was that SBS was, itself, in breach of the Race Relations Act because its name prevented white women from accessing the services. Counsel for the EHRC suggested that, on those grounds, SBS should be called Southall Black and White Siblings!

On a more serious note, Ealing now has to go back to the drawing board to develop a carefully considered policy on domestic violence services. Until a new provider is in place, they will have to carry on funding SBS.

Costs were awarded against Ealing council. The amount? You guessed it. £100,000. Now what was the sum of money that was up for grabs? Perhaps a concerned Ealing resident should launch proceedings against the council for such a gross waste of taxpayers' money.

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