One of the councillors in York, who was initially barred from speaking in a debate about access to the city centre because the Monitoring Officer considered a Blue Badge a ‘perk’, says she has now had an apology.
The council has now responded to a request from YorkMix for a statement too.
Cllr Katie Lomas, a Labour member for Acomb, told YorkMix Radio last night: “I would have expected a response by now. I didn’t expect a response that late on the Thursday night of course, but I would by now” Today she got it, as did Councillor Ashley Mason who was also involved.
Ian Floyd, chief operating officer of City of York Council, said:
“We’re extremely sorry both for the distress caused by the guidance, and for the fact that this has distracted from the important debate over accessibility in York.
“There was no intention to discriminate, but we clearly could have handled a sensitive issue better and we’re very sorry.
“We’ve written to group leaders and the affected members to apologise.
“We have also outlined that we’re both reviewing the guidance and offering a way forward to make sure the council’s code of conduct, and the guidance it prompts, is fully inclusive.
“We now have an opportunity to get it right.
“We are offering to work with members and the York Human Rights and Equalities Board to consider the equalities implications of the new ‘model code of conduct’.
“Once again, we apologise for the distress caused. We are determined to get this right, to be an open and inclusive council and rebuild the trust which has clearly been lost.”
The incident which drew widespread criticism last Thursday.
Cllr Ashley Mason, Liberal Democrat councillor, commented:
“I was incredibly disappointed to be put in a position where my disability could have prevented me from participating in such an important discussion.
“Whilst I appreciate the support from colleagues in the light of this incident, there is clearly more work to be done by council officers to ensure that the Council’s advice is fit for purpose.
“No person in any walk of life should ever feel that their disability precludes them from taking part in any kind of discussion.
“As a Liberal Democrat, I thoroughly believe that diversity and representation in local politics is incredibly important.
“We must work together to make it easier rather than harder for disabled people to contribute to politics and life in York.”
Earlier we reported
Cllr Lomas said “There has been ample opportunity, I think, for council officers to contact me since then.
“I have to say, I went to the meeting with a great deal of trepidation about what I was going to do. There’s always, I think, a little hesitancy in speaking out, because women, especially in politics, can experience a lot of negativity.
“But I have been, frankly, overwhelmed by the amount of support and positive comments that have come my way.
“As a result, I think that it’s important that anytime there is an example of discrimination on the grounds of any protected characteristic, there should absolutely be an investigation into that.”
Cllr Lomas says that she has a condition which impacts her mobility, and means that she suffers varying degrees of pain, depending on the day and the circumstances.
“But that severely limits my ability to to walk without experiencing pain. And like I say, that’s a bit it’s a variable condition. So some days, I can walk further than others.
“It also limits my ability to stand for long periods, and can even make sitting for long periods very painful.”
At first the Monitoring Officer told her that a Blue Badge was a ‘perk’ and she would have to leave the debate on accessability to the city centre as she had an interest. Later that decision was reversed.
“I believe that a Blue Badge is essentially a reasonable adjustment that’s given to people who are disabled, to make sure that they can access goods, services, and everything else on the same on the same basis as other people who aren’t disabled.
“So it is very difficult for me to use buses to travel, because walking to and from bus stops standing at bus stops waiting for buses, is is a real challenge.
“If I can’t get a seat on a bus, that’s also a massive problem. So equally parking in in car parks, which are further away from the city centre, are a huge challenge.”
She described having a Blue Badge as a levelling up measure so she was not disadvantaged.
The other councillor involved , Lib Dem Ashley Mason, is registered blind.
Cllr Lomas says that calling a Blue Badge a perk made her angry: “There is sometimes a sort of general narrative in society at the moment that disabled people somehow get things that they’re not entitled to.
“And I feel that saying I should not take part in a discussion about Blue Badges is really feeding into that narrative.
“And remember that councils, they are subject to the Equality Act, of course.
“But as local authorities, they’re also subject to the public sector equality duty, which means they have to go much further than just not being discriminatory. They have to advance equality and promote equality, which is a much higher expectation on them.
“So I was really shocked that there was that lack of understanding on something that is quite a basic fundamental of the Equality Act when it comes to disability.”