Rahila Gupta in today’s Guardian writes about the victory of Southall Black Sisters in its judicial review a couple of weeks ago: Ealing Council had wanted to cut its support for the organisation in order to fund another means of domestic violence provision not targeted at black and Asian women. Well, it looks as though Ealing went about this the wrong way procedurally and without properly carrying out its legal duty to carry out a race equality impact assessment. Ealing withdrew from the hearing, and will now have to continue to fund SBS at elast until it has come up with a legally watertight alternative policy.
I’m not going to comment on the merits of the case, except to say that since statutory duties do seem to have been ignored, it looks as though SBS had a good claim, and Ealing was right to give up. And I think there’s no doubt SBS does good work. So I’ve no problem with the legal outcome and I’ve no problem with SBS receiving continued funding.
There is another way of looking at this, though, from a broader constitutional perspective rather than a narrow public law one. Local government is, to most voters, simply a bureaucratic machine collecting money and doling it out in ways they don’t understand and can’t influence. People don’t know what party runs their council, or who the leaders are, and only a minority of people vote in council elections. How are we ever going to revive local government if its actions are so hemmed in by law that elected councillors can be forced to spend council tax money supporting an individual organisation, however worthy? This isn’t a case about the council trying to close SBS, after all, even if in reality SBS will close without public funds. This is about how the council chooses to spend its budget. If local political action is so circumscribed by statutory duties of all kinds that not even policy choices like this are possible, no wonder ambitious people in politics regard local government as a stepping stone at most; and that voters see little point in voting.
“Well, it looks as though Ealing went about this the wrong way procedurally and without properly carrying out its legal duty …“
I wonder if this was their intention, so that they …
“… will now have to continue to fund SBS at [least] until it has come up with a legally watertight alternative policy.“
If it was their intention; how common is this sort of ploy?
There’s often a sniff of this sort of thing in National politics where the scapegoat is Europe rather than statutory duties.
Between their statutory duties and judicial review Councils are between a rock and a hard place. There is practically no room for true local democracy where Councillors are actually allowed to make decisions. Indeed, we are practically at the point that if “Mr X” campaigns for the Council on a particular policy then, when he gets elected, he is excluded from anything to do with that for which he was elected!!