Council failed to comply with their equality commitments according to Equality Commission

A REPORT has found Mid and East Antrim Borough Council failed to comply with equality scheme commitments in relation to prices at leisure centres.

The Equality Commission carried out an investigation following a complaint from the public.

The inquiry found the Council didn’t properly access the impact that changing or introducing a new policy could have on different members of the community.

The council’s issue was in relation to its revision of pricing policy across leisure centres.

The complaint was connected to Schedule 9 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, which places duties on public authorities to have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity and regard to the desirability of promoting good relations when carrying out their functions.

Commenting on the report, Chief Commissioner Dr Michael Wardlow said: “These are important duties for all public authorities and fulfilling the commitments of their equality schemes should ensure that consideration of equality and good relations is central to policy development and decision-making.

“An early assessment of the impact of any policy or service on different groups of people ultimately means better outcomes for everyone using public services.”

The investigation followed a complaint that Mid and East Antrim Borough Council had failed to comply with its equality scheme commitments when it revised its pricing policy to align fees in leisure centres across the Borough following the reorganisation of local government.

The complainant believed that the new concessionary rates negatively affected older people.

The Commission investigation found a failure to comply with its equality scheme, as the Council did not assess the potential equality impacts of the new policy. It should have followed the equality scheme commitments from early in the development of the policy to ensure it considered the impact of the planned changes on various groups of people.

Dr Wardlow added: “It is vital that all public authorities comply with their statutory equality and good relations duties. Public authorities who fail to do so take the risk that their strategies and policies do not adequately consider the needs of the people they serve and that complaints will be made.

“Early, ongoing and meaningful assessment of needs, as well as communication with communities, can help accountability and decision-making.”

A Mid and East Antrim Borough Council spokesperson in a statement to ‘Ballymena Daily’ said: “Council developed a new pricing policy for leisure services in 2016 following the amalgamation of the legacy Carrickfergus, Ballymena and Larne councils into Mid and East Antrim Borough Council.

“This policy was intended to align fees in leisure centres throughout the borough as part of our commitment to improve the health and wellbeing of all our citizens and deliver first-class services.

“The reform of local government in Northern Ireland presented a number of challenges for councils, however, we have worked hard to ensure disruption to our citizens is mitigated and minimised as best we can.

“We accept the findings of the Equality Commission in this case.”

 

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