I am writing this a bit bleary eyed after last night’s full
council meeting. It didn’t finish until
just after 11pm, after which I was buzzing so didn’t sleep. I will give a more detailed update on the meeting
last night in a subsequent post, but wanted to take this opportunity to discuss
one of the agenda items – the equalities motion.
This was my first motion to council since I’ve been elected,
and given that I’m still learning the ropes, I was a bit nervous. If you’ve ever been in that council chamber,
you’ll understand why. It’s quite an
The rules on motions are that they can only be submitted
after the previous meeting has ended, and then they are debated and voted on in
order of submission. Each motion has a
maximum of 30 minutes to be debated upon and the full council meeting has a
maximum length (10:30pm, but with agreement from the chamber can be extended to
11pm), with motions being the last items on the agenda. In other words, if you get to 11pm and a motion
hasn’t been debated, it doesn’t get heard.
However, the motion doesn’t automatically go to the next meeting. It has to be resubmitted to be considered. And not all full council meetings has a place
for motions in the agenda (such as the first meeting of the municipal year), so
not that many motions have the opportunity to be debated and voted on.
The motion I presented to council last night was the
Authorities have a statutory requirement to demonstrate their compliance with
the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) of the Equalities Act 2010. This
act requires Local Authorities to consider how their work affects people of
different ages, disability, sex, sexual orientation, religion or beliefs,
marital status, pregnancy and maternity and gender identity. Everyone that
lives in, works and visits Wokingham Borough needs to have confidence that this
is being done throughout the Borough. This Council will evidence its
compliance with the PSED through undertaking Equality Impact Assessments (EqIA’s)
when required, and ensure they are included in public reports and are easily
accessible on the Council’s website. In addition, all newly elected Members
will have PSED and EqIA training as part of their induction. Executive
Members will also have to undertake PSED and EqIA training.”
This motion is printed in the agenda and what then happens
is, the Mayor asks who is the proposer and seconder. In this case the proposer was myself and the
seconder was John Halsall the leader of the council. I sent the motion to the other parties and
the independent councillors several weeks ago to let them know about it and
give us the chance to discuss (and tweak if necessary), to increase the chances
of it gaining cross party support. For
this to pass, I needed the Conservatives to vote for it as they have the majority. When John said he was happy with it, I asked
him to second it to demonstrate that commitment. Both he and I had spent time with officers at
the council to ensure that what I was proposing could be acted upon – motions cannot
be just words; they have to be practical as well.
Once it’s been established who is proposing and seconding a
motion, the proposer gets to speak for 5 minutes. The below is my speech:
“I got involved in politics as a result of what happened
at Grenfell Tower. Innocent people lost
their lives due to poor political decisions.
This ignited a desire in me to want to stand up for people in our
community who are often overlooked by our political class. People who are often seen as the
I am fortunate to have my Grandad. My Grandad is 96 years young and fit and
healthy, except for his poor eyesight.
He is registered visually impaired.
Every Tuesday I take my Grandad out to Morrisons in Woking where he
lives to get lunch and do his shopping.
As such, I know the visual and physical cues he uses to navigate
When the Wokingham Town marketplace reopened last year,
it was immediately obvious to me that something was wrong due to the experience
I have with my Grandad. This led me to
investigate and I discovered that people with visual impairment had not been
fully considered throughout all stages of the process when designing the marketplace. In fact, not all stages of the process were
fully documented from an equalities perspective, and as such, there have been a
number of issues raised regarding safety for people with protected
characteristics. These concerns are
being investigated by the council, and I welcome improvements that address
these concerns, but we should not be retrospectively considering the impact on
The Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) contained in
section 149 of the Equality Act 2010, requires public authorities to have due
regard to a number of equality considerations when exercising their functions.
As part of the PSED, Local Authorities must evidence
their compliance with the Equalities Act.
An Equality Impact Assessment (EqIA) is an analysis of a proposed
organisational policy, or a change to an existing one, which assesses whether
the policy has a disparate impact on persons with protected
characteristics. Assessing the impact on
equality is not just something the law requires, it is a positive opportunity
for public authorities to ensure they make better decisions based on robust
evidence and are transparent in the process.
If records are not kept it may make it more difficult, evidentially, for
a public authority to persuade a court that it has fulfilled it’s duty.
The marketplace regeneration is just one example of where
this council is not fully complying. There
needs to be a shift in culture at Wokingham Borough Council. Considering equalities is not something we
should be doing because the law tells us to.
We should and must be doing this because we are here to serve ALL of our
residents. Just because the majority are
catered for, does not make it acceptable to ignore the minority. And in order to change this culture, it must
start from the top. That is every single
one of us in this room. We are the faces
of this council, and we have to lead by example and be the change.
Currently, senior officers undergo mandatory training on
this subject. There is an online
training course on the council intranet which is available for elected members
to partake, and I strongly urge all of us sitting in this room to do it
please. This training will also be
available to all new members once they are elected. In addition to this, training must also be
given in the new councillor induction session, and at the first Executive
Briefing of the municipal year.
Currently, the attendance record of elected members is available on the
council’s website. Any training
undertaken by elected members will be published in the same way.
Transparency is crucial for anything the council
undertakes, but particularly when it comes to equalities. All EqIAs will be made publicly available on
the council website. In order to
determine whether an EqIA is required, an initial impact review is done, and
where an EqIA is deemed not required, the initial impact review will also be
made publicly available on the council website.
In addition to this, when policy papers are presented to us, currently
there is an emphasis on the financial implications of the recommendation
listed. The measure of success of this
or any council cannot rest on its finances.
We are dealing with people – our residents, and every policy paper put
before us, also needs to include the impact on them as well, including those
with protected characteristics. We must
give confidence to everyone that lives, visits and works in Wokingham Borough
that we are considering everyone’s needs.
What I am proposing is a very simple and effective way of doing
this. I strongly urge this council to
demonstrate it’s support to ensure that Wokingham Borough is a great place to
live and an even better place to do business for everyone.”
The seconder is then given the opportunity to talk, although
they can reserve comment until other members of the council have spoken. John chose to speak in support of the motion
and indicated that this is something we already do. This frustrated me somewhat as you will see
Now the other members of the council get to speak and
debate, although John tried to take this motion straight to the vote. You might think that given it was clear this
motion was going to pass, so what, go straight to the vote. However, one of the big problems we have is
that many members of that council chamber don’t get how serious an issue this
is, and debating a motion in council, is an opportunity to speak to the public. Full council is a public forum and a
mouthpiece for the council, and this needed the air time to show that we’re taking
resident’s concerns seriously. The
labour leader Andy Croy requested the debate continue (quite rightly) and the
What was notable is that the only speakers on the motion
came from Labour and the Lib Dems. They
highlighted a number of points, some talking from personal experience, and all discussing
the negative impacts on the public many decisions have had. One of the great comments made was by Imogen
Shepherd-Dubey who said:
“Do we truly understand what it is to walk a mile in
someone else’s shoes? As an Autistic
woman who is married to another woman, I can’t think that many of you have the
same perspective as me, but I don’t know what it is like to be you either – so I
think we are even.”
And Caroline Smith also said:
“Discrimination of the elderly is not often up for public
debate, but one thing I am sure of, is that this is something that can affect
us all and cane be affecting a member of our families today, so let’s make sure
they are treated equal at all times.”
One everybody has had the chance to speak, the proposer gets
a right of reply and can speak for up to 3 minutes before it goes to the
vote. This is an opportunity to address
anything that has been raised in the debate and to sum up. I made a few notes as others were speaking
and addressed those, and then read the following:
“Thank you for all your comments and the debate and I’m
pleased that this council appears to be behind this motion. It’s not exactly a controversial issue. What I am concerned about though is the
reasons for this council backing the motion.
This organisation has to be more than just words and promises – it has
to deliver on those as well. My concern
is that this motion will pass (and believe me, I hope it does pass), but
without fully grasping why this motion is here in the first place. So let me try and change that.
In yesterday’s Bracknell and Wokingham news, in an
article about this motion, a senior member of this chamber was quoted as saying
“it is the sort of thing we are already doing anyway – we already do what the
motion says so it is just reaffirming what we do.” Rubbish!
Why would I be wasting time on something that’s not necessary. If this council was doing this kind of thing,
we wouldn’t have the problems that have been highlighted here tonight. And it goes much deeper than this.
Look at the diverse society out there that we
represent. And now look around this
council chamber. Why are we not
reflecting that diversity? There are too
many barriers in the way. I can say this
from personal experience. In my time so
far at this council, I have on more than one occasion been spoken to in an
unacceptable manner including had comments made that would not have been made
to my male counterparts. These comments
only serve to belittle me. And the thing
is, we’ve heard this before in this council chamber when an outgoing leader of
this council commented on the old boys network.
It feels like some of us in this council chamber are seen as a tick in
the diversity box. Believe me, we add a
hell of a lot more value than that.
This isn’t about me or the other few people in this
council chamber that represent protected characteristics though. The point I make is to demonstrate that the
problems we have of equality in this council are engrained to the point that
not everyone can see it. This is a very
real issue and the attitude and culture has to change to address this. This is not about saying the right things for
the press – enough of the words – do something!
I appreciate I won’t succeed in changing everyone’s minds. But what I will have done is to bring the
problem to the forefront, raise awareness and start to do something about
it. Are you with me?”
I was shaking as I read this – a combination of nerves and
in some respects anger. The vote was unanimous,
and now the Head of Governance at the council has the mandate to insist the
words of this motion happens. There is a
long way to go still, but we have taken a massive step in the right
direction. The final statement below is my
party’s mission statement:
“The Liberal Democrats exist to
build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance
the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one
shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.”