Attempts to correct past wrongs have led to the cancelling of public services and council tax hikes
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Certainly that’s the case with the growing number of Section 114 notices issued by councils, an effective declaration of bankruptcy which places strict limits on council spending and is usually accompanied by crippling council tax hikes. From Nottingham’s quixotic attempt to solve fuel poverty by setting up Robin Hood Energy, to Woking’s dream of a Singapore-in-Surrey, council bosses have grown increasingly desperate to save the world rather than simply deliver cost-effective frontline services for residents.
The most spectacular of these bankruptcies, Birmingham, differs slightly to the rest. The council there certainly shouldn’t be let off easy. Government-appointed commissioner Max Caller was unequivocal, calling the crisis “self-inflicted” and accusing them of ignoring the warning signs.
Yet it was always going to be difficult for Birmingham, which was hit by a Supreme Court decision in 2012 that found in favour of 174 city employees, all female, who claimed that they were paid unfairly.
This was based on the fact that bonuses were handed out to refuse collectors, street cleaners, road workers and grave-diggers, but not to cooks, cleaners, catering and care staff. The former roles were male-dominated, and the latter female-dominated. So although there were no disparities within roles, Birmingham is being forced to cough up billions of pounds in compensation.
The culprit? The 2010 Equalities Act, which for fourteen years has been causing havoc up and down the public and private sector with its many consequences, intended or otherwise.
It would be difficult to believe that the Equalities Act was designed with the intention to bankrupt Birmingham, one of Labour’s flagship councils and the largest local authority in Europe. But that’s effectively what happened. And that’s now the risk with Labour’s proposed race equalities act.
Let’s take them at their word and believe that it’s genuinely intended to be a solution to the lingering racial discrimination that exists in some parts of society. Unfortunately, even if that’s the intention, it could lead to a wave of equal pay claims with calamitous effects for town hall finances.
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