A cross-party committee of councillors has blocked Labour’s plans to hike parking charges by up to 130% due to the Council’s failure to follow proper equalities procedures.
Wednesday evening’s special meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Commission was arranged after the Lib Dem and the Conservative groups each submitted separate motions to ‘call in’ the Council’s proposals to raise the costs of parking permits in Wimbledon and Raynes Park.
During the crunch meeting Cllr Anthony Fairclough, proposer of the Lib Dem call-in, challenged the plan for its failure to follow the Council’s set equality assessment process. The Council’s analysis of the plan identified potential disproportionate impacts on people with disabilities, pregnant women and women who’ve just given birth, as well as some people on low incomes.
In his submission, Cllr Fairclough showed that the Council had failed to consult people from the relevant groups appropriately over ways to minimise any negative impacts - contrary to the Council's published process. He also challenged the Council over the total lack of evidence to support claims that the charges would lead to a reduction in car ownership, and thereby improve air quality:
“When considering groups protected by our equality laws, the relevant principle is ‘no decision about us, without us’.
“That clearly did not happen here. I am pleased that councillors from all parties on the Commission were able to hold the Council to account for failing to follow its equality process.”
The Commission voted to refer the proposal back to the Council cabinet to carry out a proper equality assessment. The Liberal Democrat call-in can be seen on Youtube here.
This is the first time a call-in decision has ever been successful against a Merton Council administration – an important moment in holding Council bosses to account, according to Cllr Paul Kohler, the Lib Dem parliamentary spokesperson for Wimbledon and a member of the Scrutiny Commission.
Following the meeting, Cllr Kohler commented:
“Our action today sends a signal to the Council that they cannot force through plans without following published processes, if they try, councillors from all parties will come together to hold them to account, as we did today.
“The Lib Dem group also carried out a detailed analysis of the academic evidence that the Labour administration are using to justify the new charges. None of the evidence presented supported their claims that the proposals will reduce car ownership and therefore improve air quality. Unfortunately Labour members of the Commission fail to recognise the significance of this lack of evidence.
“The ball is now back in the Council’s court. I hope that they will listen to the significant opposition to these unfair plans from residents, and replace them with a proper emissions-based scheme that will actually address air pollution
“The result was a victory for scrutiny and cross-party collaboration and I hope will not be seen or reported just in narrow partly political terms.”
As well as backing the successful Lib Dem call in, Cllr Kohler also supported a separate call-in by the Conservatives, which also examined the evidence behind the proposals. The Conservative call-in was unfortunately not successful as other members of the Scrutiny Commission felt it was not sufficiently clear and focused