It’s now almost a year since I launched my campaign to make Great Barr great for Disabled People and sadly, the fight continues.
In their letter dated the 18th September, Sandwell Council requested “a list of all retailers considered to be completely inaccessible in order that we can write to them reminding them of their duties under the Equality Act.” Having checked that the data was still accurate, I duly provided the data requested. I’d hoped that at long last, the campaign was being taken seriously.
In their next letter, dated 20th December, the council did a complete U-turn by stating, “Unfortunately, the council does not have sufficient resources to send follow up letters to those premises that have not responded to your report.” However, they seem to think that I have the time and resources to do this work for them: “…the council’s Access Officer in our Street Scene Directorate is happy to email you a guidance document that may be of use to you which sets out the responsibilities of premise owners under the Equalities Act…” The retailers have already ignored my initial letter and report so even if I did circulate this guidance document, it is unlikely to have any impact. The very fact that the council has the guidance document is indicative of the fact that they should be sending it out to local businesses.
The council clearly had no intention of following this up so I am therefore left wondering why they requested the data in the first place. Furthermore, if the Council is not prepared to enforce the Equality Act, then who exactly is responsible for doing so? It appears that the council doesn’t really care what these businesses do and is happy to pass the buck wherever possible.
The Council have been keen to stress that Building Regulations only require new builds to be fully accessible for disabled people. As most of the shops covered by the campaign are old buildings, the council is not concerned with their accessibility. However, this completely misses the point of the Equality Act. As I outlined in my original report, there are several ways in which businesses can make themselves accessible to disabled people without making structural changes to their premises. However, the council have completely overlooked this point in their response and seem content in the knowledge that the Equality Act is being blatantly ignored in their borough.
To reinforce this point, I asked the council to clarify whether compliance with the Equality Act is periodically assessed. Once again, I was told that, “the Council’s limited resources do not allow businesses to be periodically assessed regarding access.” The Council does employ an Access Officer so I am somewhat confused as to what his job entails if he cannot remind local businesses of their responsibilities or complete Access Audits.
It seems that the Council are totally disinterested in this campaign and therefore I intend to escalate this matter by writing to Mike Penning, the Minister of State for Disabled People. I will not allow the Council to simply brush this under the carpet as they have done thus far and will continue to fight for the rights of disabled people.