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Court tells councils to think again on cuts after equality failure

A judge has told councils to rethink plans to slash spending on a London-wide grants programme because they failed to carry out a proper assessment of how the cuts would affect disabled people and other minority groups.

The high court ruling has been welcomed as a huge boost to disabled people fighting other public sector spending cuts.

London Councils, which represents London’s 33 local authorities, wanted to scrap large parts of its grants programme, cutting spending from £26.4 million to £18.48 million next year, and to just £8 million in 2012-13.

Only London-wide schemes would have been funded, with other services left to local councils to support, while some city-wide services would also have lost future support because of a slimmed-down list of funding priorities.

Among disability organisations that would have lost funding were Disability Law Service (DLS) and Transport for All.

TfA receives £100,000 a year from London Councils – the bulk of its funding – and warned that losing the money could force it to close in the summer of 2012, just three months before London hosts the Paralympics.

DLS was set to lose funding for a project that provides disabled people with legal representation to take discrimination cases.

But Mr Justice Calvert-Smith ruled that London Councils had failed to consult properly or to carry out a full equality impact assessment (EIA) on the cuts.

He quashed all the funding decisions, affecting more than 200 voluntary sector organisations, and ordered London Councils to reconsider its plans, taking proper account of its public sector equality duties.

Nick Goss, managing director of Goss Consultancy, which provides EIA training to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said the case was “a very clear signal to public sector organisations that by not giving due regard to their statutory equalities duties it was likely to cost, rather than save, public money through legal litigation”.

He added: “The case reinforces the fact that it is not an option for public sector organisations to carry out EIAs and effective consultation, it is a legal duty and these have to be done in the right way and at the right time.”

Linda Clarke, director of DLS, said: “In the current economic climate, with public authorities facing huge cuts to their budgets, we welcome this judgement, which reinforces the importance of seriously assessing equalities impact before taking decisions to cut spending which may disproportionately affect disabled people and other disadvantaged groups.”

London Councils said it would now “reconsider the equalities impacts and consider different options in more detail”.