Old, disabled and poor will feel impact of Northants County Council belt-tightening budget

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The brunt of the of the drastic cuts to Northamptonshire County Council’s budget will be borne by the old, the disabled, the poor and the young.

The council’s own damning analysis of its sweeping cuts is detailed in its Equality Impact Assessments (EIAs) written by its own officers.

They state

- Trading standards will be unable to investigate 80 per cent of complaints meaning the elderly will be left vulnerable to fraudsters and rogue traders

- Cuts of up to 40 per cent in Corby Children’s Centres will harm and disadvantage the welfare of vulnerable children and families.

- 109,000 concessionary bus pass holders including the elderly and the disabled will be disproportionately negatively affected by the complete withdrawal of all bus subsidides. The impact on rural communities will be ‘devastating’.

The assessments are designed to ensure that big council decisions do not cause hardship for the most vulnerable groups.

Many of those EIAs were carried out before its original budget was ripped up after it was indicated it could be illegal. Because the final budget had to be written and considered with such haste, EIAs for some departments were not completed, so the true impact may never be know.

The most damning reports are those written about trading standards and the cuts to bus subsidies.

The trading standards report says: “Rogue traders will target vulnerable consumers with significantly lower risk of getting caught. The ageing population and associated impairments mean this type of crime is likely to rise.

“We currently treat 50 per cent of consumer complaints referred to us as ‘intelligence only’, due to previous budget reductions.

“In 2016/17 we received 2293 consumer complaints. We will have to treat at least 90 per cent (80 under more up to date proposals) of such referrals as ‘intelligence only’ meaning they do not get investigated or resolved in any way.

“Testing and analysis of products/services for legal compliance e.g. fire resistance, electrical safety, toys, illegal harmful food ingredients & food allergens (that consumers cannot detect for themselves) will have to virtually stop.”

And the bus subsidies statement says: “It is likely that older people, younger people and disabled people will be disproportionately negatively affected by the withdrawal of subsidised bus services.

“There is a risk that young people currently reliant on a subsidised service will be hindered in their ability to access employment or training opportunities.

“Many respondents spoke about how it would limit access to employment with some having to leave their job as they had no alternative affordable transport.

“Some respondents... stated they relied on the bus service to get them to medical appointments at the hospital.”

Anjona Roy, chief executive of the Northamptonshire Rights and Equality Council said she was concerned that EIAs had not been fully carried out for some of the revised proposals in the new budget, adding: “One of the objects of an EIA is that you can look at its outcome and then provide some mitigation to minimise the effect of those cuts.

“You’d be finding creative solutions to the situation you find yourself in.

“I haven’t seen that the EIAs have been carried out for the latest budget.

“There will be many difficulties that the most disadvantaged and vulnerable people will face as a direct result of these cuts.”

A Northamptonshire County Council spokesman said: “The Equality Impact Assessments relating to all libraries in the county have been updated to reflect the revised recommendation that was approved by full council this week as part of the budget-setting process and are available online.

“EIAs were published last autumn relating to many of the other budget recommendations, including changes to bus subsidies, trading standards and highways maintenance, which are still applicable.

“The proposals which were not subject to previous cabinet papers were derived with great urgency as a result of the advisory notice issued by our auditors KPMG and in order to set our council tax precept by the deadline of March 1. As such, these do not include EIAs.”