Posted tagged ‘judicial review’

Asking the right questions

September 8, 2011

Arrrggghhhh!

My council is on Equality Impact Assessment alert.

For those who are not aware an Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) is a process by which a local authority, or other public body, assesses the impact of any change in service delivery on the different parts of our community. Often, the local authority will have a template and ask members of staff to think seriously about the impact of each decision on equality based on race, gender, age, socio-economic status, religion, disability and many others.

I believe that the assessments were once statutory but now they are primarily used to help local authorities demonstrate that they have considered the full range of equalities impacts of their actions rather than completed as a result of Government diktat.

And let us not forget that if the equalities issues are not considered a local authority could find itself facing a judicial review.

With the amount of changes taking place at the moment (a 20% reduction in budget will do that to you) and the importance of the EIAs there probably aren’t that many staff who haven’t been asked to join in and contribute to at least one EIA.

One of the major challenges when producing an EIA is to find data that enables you to accurately breakdown who uses your service. This data is crucial to ensuring that the service meets the needs of the whole community. Whilst the completion of the EIA is designed to make you challenge your own assumptions, good quality data smacks you in the face and makes you adapt.

There are a variety of ways to collect this data but one of the key ways is to collect the data through council questionnaires. Everyone reading this has probably completed the equalities section of a survey at one stage or another. Although the questions are fairly simple they usually take up a side of A4 and can be as lengthy as the rest of the survey/questionnaire.

Despite seeming a little lengthy the information is crucial when local authorities are trying to ensure that they don’t break the law and do provide a comprehensive service for the whole community.

All this goes to explain why I was slightly surprised by Eric Pickles’ latest Local Government outburst on Friday.

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Judicially reviewed

September 5, 2011

A more imposing location for decision making than a council chamber?

It sometimes feels like established society is collapsing around our ears.

First the bankers did their best to destroy the financial system (with a worthy assist from the general public it must be said); then the politicians decided to abuse their expenses and finally the press and police conspired together to take the award for the 2011 abuse of power of the year.

The one group who have survived relatively unscathed from this attack of societal self-destruction have been our judges.

Despite the judiciary being about as representative of the British population as a bulldog is of the canine race our judges occupy an almost rarefied position in society. As an example, no matter what the crisis the general response of the British public, press and politicians is to demand an independent judicial enquiry, or for a particularly egregious breach of trust an independent public enquiry chaired by a judge.

This love of the judiciary is possibly the last recourse of a society let down by our other elites, and also by a society that is less than trusting of our politicians.

As goes society so goes Local Government.

Over the past few months members of the public have been petitioning the courts in untold numbers to try and reverse decisions made by their local authorities. This has been the case about possible library closures and, home care services and significantly wider cuts to Adult Social Care amongst many others.

I don’t necessarily disagree with the causes of these campaigners.

However, I can’t help but think that changing these decisions through the courts rather than through the local democratic process is simply not right.

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Libraries, raised tempers and Gloucestershire County Council

August 22, 2011

Shhh; no arguing in the library

As regular readers of this blog will know we like starting debates and we even like criticism. In fact we recently wrote a post dedicated to the well thought through and constructive criticism we have received from various people who read our blog. We write the blog in good faith and welcome people with an interest in local government to join the debate; whether they agree with us or not.

I mention this because the post written by one of my colleagues last Thursday generated the sort of comment we’ve never seen before.

For those who missed it the WLLG blogger argued that there needed be a real debate about libraries and suggested that:

Those who think we can abolish libraries and move to kindles or book share only (I’ve heard it said) are as mistaken as those that think we can simply protect the porta-cabin library in each village and change nothing; which of course isn’t to say that in some locations a porta cabin village library might not be appropriate. However, if we meet in the middle we’ll be able to find solutions that meet all needs and that might just involve book share, libraries in supermarkets, kindles, web services, part time libraries, flexible public spaces, mobile libraries, traditional library buildings and everything in between.

But that’s not, I think, what annoyed people. He then took a brief detour into the world of judicial reviews and argued:

Despite this I would still disagree with the judicial review. The cuts being made by local authorities are next to impossible and if every small group is able to go to high court to challenge the change it will be impossible to do anything at all. I don’t therefore disagree with any of the individual judgments as such; just the principle of it.

The readers of our blog took offence at his reference to them as being ‘small’ and seemed to forget that his argument was not against any individual judgement but more about the principles of judicial reviews.

Nonetheless, the response to his flippant reference to these groups as small (probably a little unwise), both on the blog and on twitter, was unusually angry.

My favourite was the author who said:

I doubt if the people running this blog are representative of local government officers. I suspect it to be the creation of some young men and women in a hurry to get to the top, who think closing some libraries will look good on their cvs.

And the tweeter who suggested:

‘wonder if someone’s stirring the pot so’s to divide & rule’

However, amongst the odd vitriolic comments (from both sides) there were some really passionate responses, particularly from authors who are campaigning in Gloucestershire. In particular, it is worth reading this from Demelza who argued:

I, and many others in Gloucestershire, don’t believe the administration should be able to get away with this, and having exhausted all other avenues, supporting the JR seemed the only option – nor a decision that was taken lightly. It has been extremely stressful and time-consuming dealing with all the media attention and debate and criticism that has come from this, and no small feat to try and raise the many thousands of pounds required by the Legal Sevices Commission as ‘community contribution’ towards the costs of the case.

I believe, in principal, that JRs shouldn’t be necessary, and that councillors should respond and reflect the needs/concerns of their tax payers/electorate, and should not embark on plans where their are clear concerns, from several sources, of illegality. Clearly though this has not been happening in Gloucestershire with regard to the library cuts.

The response from Johanna also included a link to her piece detailing the library changes which is worth checking out.

With this in mind, and recognising that we try not to comment on individual local authorities but instead focus on principles and sector wide issues I decided to do some reading. What I found is a complex picture of an authority struggling to make huge budget cuts, a library service facing HUGE cuts and a community that didn’t feel listened to despite the councils attempts at a widespread consultation. In other words it shows some of the best and worst of the problems facing the whole of the sector right now.

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Closing Libraries (and other heresies)

August 18, 2011

To close or not to close? That is the question...

It is amazing how quickly a local government working, library supporting, cuts defying, Eric Pickles baiting council officer can turn into an anti-libraries cuts enthusiast with just a few vaguely provocative tweets but that is exactly what happened to me on Tuesday.

Twitter is great for many things; it is helpful for spreading ideas, sharing articles and making pithy comments on the news of the day. It is good for making connections, starting debates and provides for the intellectual stimulation some other forms of social media do not.

However, twitter is not good for developing a full and detailed argument on any particular topic.

And so it proved on Tuesday.

@walkyouhome and @ShirleyBurnham are (and I think it is ok to assume this) library supporters and campaigners and neither were particularly impressed by my suggestion that the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act might be a pretty poor basis upon which to base today’s library policy.

Of course I did this in typical twitter slang “me thinks world a little different in 1964???”

And the debate started. It ranged across a number of topics but my side of it essentially boiled down to five things:

1)    A libraries service for 2011 probably looks very different to one in 1964

2)    A libraries service for Hackney should look different than one for Gloucestershire

3)    Innovation in the delivery of library services should be encouraged and this might mean different models

4)    Local councils are best placed to make these decisions

5)    Judicial reviews are a very bad way to decide local policy

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