Great Barr Great Campaign: The Story So Far
September 2012: Having realised how inaccessible the Great Barr area was, I began researching and collating information which form the basis of the Accessibility Report.
January 2013: Great Barr Accessibility Report – Finalwas finalised and 100 copies printed for distribution to local retailers, Sandwell Council, local media and local MP, Tom Watson.
1st February 2013: Accessibility Report is hand delivered to all 81 retailers, along with a letter which explains retailers responsibility to make themselves accessibility and an offer of support from Flyinglady Training. The report was also posted to Sandwell Council, Tom Watson and local media. By the end of February, just one retailer had contacted me to explain that the report would be forwarded to their Head Office. The Great Barr Observer got in touch as they wanted to cover the story. I was even more encouraged when the story made the front page that Friday and the paper had got a response from local MP, Tom Watson. He said, “This is an insightful piece of research showing that there is clearly a problem in regards to access in parts of the area. I will be contacting all the agencies I can in regard to this to try and find a solution to this problem.”
April 2013: Despite this comment from Tom Watson, I had to email him to ask what he was intending to do to support the campaign. When I eventually got a reply at the start of June, I was told that Mr Watson was still studying my report “to see what help he may be able to give to the campaign.” I still had not received a response from the council.
August 2013: Tom Watson wrote to me, with a response from Sandwell Council. It had been six months since the report was published and the Council was still considering the contents of the report. Their letter, dated 14th August, said, “…the report submitted refers to a range of issues and therefore comments are required from a number of service areas.” I independently researched, compiled, published and hand delivered the report in four months so it was extremely disappointing that the council couldn’t even respond to it within six months and had to be prompted to do so by the MP.
October 2013: I finally received a response from Sandwell Council, again via Tom Watson. The letter, dated 18th September, requested further information about the shops which were 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 responded to their letter and provided the data requested. I’d hoped that at long last, the campaign was being taken seriously.
December 2013: 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.
January 2014: Having been contacted by the Great Barr Observer, Sandwell Cabinet member, Councillor Ian Jones, said, “…the responsibility to ensure that businesses premises have appropriate disabled access rests with the business owners and not the council, as stated in the Equalities Act 2010.” The council have agreed, however, to remind retailers of their responsibilities but I am doubtful that this will make any difference and I am left wondering what the point of the Equality Act is if nobody is responsible for enforcing it.
I am utterly determined not to let this campaign go unheard and thus I am going to write to the Minister of State for Disabled People, Mike Penning and request his support.
It is completely unacceptable that twenty years on from the Disability Discrimination Act, I am still fighting for access for disabled people. It is about time that the Equality Act was properly enforced rather than being a piece of legislation which is merely paid lip service. Flyinglady will not rest until this is achieved.