Liveable Streets disability consultation sham exposed

An investigation by the Enquirer and Tower Hamlets residents has raised concerns over the validity of the Equality Impact Assessments of the Liveable Streets project and indicates that the council has undertaken no substantive consultation with disabled residents or disability groups despite repeatedly claiming to have done so.

What is an Equality Impact Assessment?

An Equality Impact Assessment (EQIA) is the Public Sector Equality Duty contained in section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 whereby a council has to check if there is a ‘disproportionate impact on persons who share a protected characteristic’ when a council (or other organisation) proposes making significant changes to policy or services.

In the case of Liveable Streets the protected characteristic is those residents who are disabled. Other shared characteristic are age, sex, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, religion or belief, race, sexual orientation and pregnancy and maternity.

Around 12,600 people in Tower Hamlets, just over 5% of the population, have a severe disability.

Source: Tower Hamlets Council

Our investigation has found that

  • Only one of the seven Liveable Streets projects being built has been subject to an Equality Impact Assessment (EQIA) and the EQIA document published seems to be of dubious quality.
  • Tower Hamlets council has not been truthful when claiming that it has engaged with disability charities. It has not.
  • Tower Hamlets council has repeatedly stated that “We also continue our work with REAL, Age UK and local community groups [St. Hildas] to ensure the needs of the community are captured.” It does not.
  • In reality only one charity out of the three mentioned has been engaged at any level, User-led disability rights group Real, and it only talked to four disabled people.
  • Real has recently published a statement on Real’s involvement with Liveable Streets explaining that Real was not invited by LBTH to support any consultation in respect of the Wapping Liveable Streets consultations, that it has no formal policy position on Liveable Streets and has not endorsed the Liveable Streets programme.

LBTH EQIA definition

This is how Tower Hamlets council defines an EQIA on it’s website.

What is an EQIA?
‘An Equality Impact Assessment (EQIA) is an analysis of a proposed change to assess whether it has a disproportionate impact on persons who share a protected characteristic. The council undertakes Equality Impact Assessments on significant changes to policy or services that could have a disproportionate impact on individuals or groups that share a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.’

Source Equality Impact Assessment (EQIA)

As part of our research we have worked through the Liveable Streets project pages for Wapping, Barkantine, Bethnal Green, Brick Lane, Old Ford Road West and Shadwell and on none of these pages is there anything we can find relating to EQIAs.

Bow does have an EQIA document but none of the other areas.

Liveable Streets AreaEQIA?
BarkantineNo
Bethnal GreenNo
BowYes
Brick LaneNo
Old Ford Road WestNo
WappingNo
ShadwellNo

Unanswered questions

The Enquirer asked LBTH several questions about the Liveable Streets (LS) EQIA issue on 9th September but has yet to receive a response.

On the day of publication we discovered that there is a Tower Hamlets Pan-Disability Panel (THPDP) which provides deaf and disabled people and others interested in disability issues with an opportunity to shape local services.

The THPDP has been approached for comment.

The one EQIA document we have found for Bow was completed by Chris Harrison and signed off by Mehmet Mazhar on 17/11/2020.

Mr Mazhar is Business Manager, Highways & Traffic Management while Mr. Harrison is Technical Director at Project Centre Ltd and is also Liveable Streets Technical Director and Project Director of Liveable Streets Bow.

PCL Ltd

As we explained in a previous story concerning the Skew Bridge closure Mr. Harrison is on secondment from Project Centre Ltd to Tower Hamlets Council for the duration of the Liveable Streets (LS) project.

Manners cost nothing Mr. Harrison

Several residents the Enquirer has spoken before and during our research who had attended meetings with Mr. Harrison were completely unaware that he was on secondment from the company that is being being paid to do the LS work and were of the belief that he was a Tower Hamlets council officer.

Chris Harrison

On one occasion Mr. Harrison seemed to consider it beneath his pay grade to take note of the concerns voiced by a resident and expressed his frustration with a series of melodramatic eye-rolls and much raising his eyebrows.

Maybe he is on secondment to a Christmas panto as well?

Either way Mr. Harrison would be well advised to mind his manners when talking to residents of this or any other borough.

Just because some elected representatives make no secret for the contempt they feel for residents does not mean an external contractor can.

Who are PCL Consult?

PCL Consult has around 50 different projects it is working on or has completed for Tower Hamlets council which you can see here so it is safe to assume that it has extensive experience of carrying out an EQIA.

Project Centre Ltd is at the bottom of a very long corporate network which you can see below.

PCL Consult is just a brand name of Project Centre Ltd (Company Number 02625312) which is controlled by NSL Ltd (Company Number 06033060) which is controlled by Marston Holdings Ltd (04305487) which is controlled by Marston Resources Ltd (07999493) which is controlled by Magenta Bidco Ltd (09840182) aka De Facto 2208 Ltd which is controlled by Magenta Interco Ltd (09840174) which is controlled by Marston Corporate Ltd (09840186) which is controlled by Free Flow Bidco Ltd (12155357) AND Intermediate Capital Managers Ltd (02327504).

Free Flow Bidco branch

Free Flow Bidco Ltd is controlled by Free Flow Parentco Ltd (12155395)
which is controlled by Free Flow Pikco Ltd (12155409) which is controlled by Free Flow Interco Ltd (12187604) which is controlled by Free Flow Topco Ltd (12187599) which is not controlled by any other corporate entity to our knowledge.

ICM branch

Intermediate Capital Managers Ltd is controlled by ICG FMC Ltd (07266173) which is controlled by Intermediate Capital Group plc (02234775) which is not controlled by any other corporate entity to our knowledge.

Data source: OpenCorporates

So that’s all clear then. This sort of corporate structure is entirely legal, the Enquirer just finds these things interesting.

Have EQIA assessments for Liveable Streets been carried out?

It should be reasonably simple for anyone to check what consultation Tower Hamlets council, represented by PCL, has undertaken with members and representatives of the disabled community to ensure that the proposed work would not cause them undue problems and then to check if EQIAs have been properly completed for the different LS projects and to examine the documentation.

Not so. But then this is Tower Hamlets.

Triple check

Even if you disagree with what Moley finds when digging around the borough even his detractors will agree that he has a reputation for accuracy. In the last couple of days (Tuesday 8th December – Wednesday 9 December 2020) Moley has checked each LS site five times for any sign or reference to EQIA documents.

These searches are in addition to multiple searches over the last few months by himself and those kind residents helping him with his work.

However even with his experience he has found it extremely difficult to find the relevant documentation (see below). People without investigative experience would have no chance at all. Is this by design or negligence? Who knows.

Bow Liveable Streets EQIA

As mentioned above we could only find one EQIA for any of the LS projects on the Talk Tower Hamlets consultation site, this being for Bow.

Bethnal Green Liveable Streets EQIA

We just checked the LS Bethnal Green pages and there is still no EQIA statement although there are partial documents.

Wapping Liveable Streets EQIA

The Wapping consultation outcome report does say an EQIA was completed and can be seen at Appendix F but there is no Appendix F on the LS pages and there is no indication of where it might be found. The complete failure by Tower Hamlets council to consider local residents who are Blue Badge holders and their need for exemption from bus gate charges should be remembered.

Barkantine Liveable Streets EQIA

The Barkantine project has no EQIA statement but does have a Results Booklet. The words ‘disabled’ or ‘disability’ do not appear once in this document.

Brick Lane Liveable Streets EQIA

No EQIA statement.

Old Ford Road West Liveable Streets EQIA

No EQIA statement.

Shadwell Liveable Streets EQIA

No EQIA statement.

Whitechapel Liveable Streets EQIA

No EQIA statement.

In fact he was hard pressed to find any mention of disability issues at all. Mole finally resorted to checking for even the existence of the words ‘disabled’ or ‘disability’ in documents.

You can guess the result. Word not found.

The wrong Act

One Bow resident emailed Dr Alice Maynard who knows more than a thing or two about disability.

Speaking in a personal capacity Dr. Maynard said she was not impressed when she eventually found the EQIA documentation for the Bethnal Green LS project the resident referred to.

‘…the equality impact assessment (which I found incredibly difficult to locate) is, in my view, inadequate. In particular, a proper assessment of impact is sorely lacking and, if it were more appropriately assessed, the requirement to seek to mitigate would follow and thereby minority voices could be heard.’

Dr Maynard also pointed out that the official report to Cabinet quotes the wrong act, the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) which was superseded by the Equality Act in 2010.

Close attention to detail? Doesn’t look like it.

If the people supposedly undertaking a EQIA are content to produce documentation which quotes the wrong Act of Parliament then it would be reasonable to question their professionalism and ability to do the work required.

We have not investigated the issue of how PCL staff are qualified to undertake EQIA.

Poor standard of documentation

A continuing problem that the Enquirer finds when researching any story concerning LBTH is that the organisation of any documentation on the relevant part of the LBTH site and the extremely low standard of individual documents hinders either residents or journalists from understanding basic issues.

Additionally there are often multiple versions of the same document and it is difficult if not impossible to work out which is the most current due to documents being updated and an absence of version numbers.

When a document is found there is the additional barrier to comprehension of impenetrable local government jargon and almost total lack of plain English.

This, in combination with the other issues mentioned here are a real obstacle to finding out basic facts such as what the criteria is for choosing the charities to be consulted and is this documented?

Read on to understand why this is so important.

No disabled people live in Bethnal Green

Of course people with disabilities live in Bethnal Green! But reading the detail of how and who the Liveable Streets people engaged with during the consultation process you might be forgiven for thinking there are none at all.

Appendix C – Consultation and engagement delivery of the Bethnal Green Liveable Streets document (well, one of them) created on 21 January 2020 described the consultation and engagement processes for LS in the Bethnal Green area.

The document explains in some detail all the different ways that consultation was done. Ready? Deep breath.

In addition to digital engagement and the consultation survey the document mentions visits to several schools for coffee mornings and handing out flyers, speaking to parents at pick -up and drop-off times and offering meetings to all schools in the area as well as supplying written content for inclusion in school newsletters at, William Davis Primary School, Columbia Primary School, Virginia Primary School, Oaklands Secondary School, Elizabeth Selby Primary, Lawdale Junior School, Bethnal Green Montessori School and the two drop-in events held at the Professional Development Centre,Bethnal Green Road, meeting with the Columbia Tenants & Residents Association (TRA), Nags Head TRA, Friends of Arnold Circus, Rochelle site managers, Hollybush TRA, residents of JHERA, local representatives of the Fire, Police and London Ambulance Service, consulting with Tower Hamlets Refuse, consulting with the Tower Hamlets Markets team and a follow-up consultation pack was delivered to the market traders of Columbia Road.

Comprehensive? Not at all.

Because despite all this effort there is no mention of an EQIA statement or any engagement with any residents with disabilities or groups representing them. There is an Equality Analysis document for Bethnal Green but it has not been completed or signed off.

No engagement with advocacy groups for disabled

In any consultation with residents by any local authority there are formal engagements with groups representing the disabled. This is what these groups do and they often get considerable sums of grant money from the local authority which is fair as they deliver an essential service.

So which groups representing the disabled did Tower Hamlets council engage with? And which groups representing the disabled engaged with the council? This is where everything gets complicated.

There must have been some because as you can see from this screen grab from the Disability section of the Bow EQIA where it clearly states that

‘As part of the process, discussions have been held with key groups regarding the proposals and the impacts they could have and the key issues they would like to see addressed by the programme. … Continued engagement will take place with groups, organisations, charities throughout the programme.’

Screen grab from LS Bow Equality Impact document

Sounds good, right? Problem is that discussions with key groups, in this case the disabled, have not been held. And it is not possible to continue engagement when you have yet to start engagement.

Fact is that we have not found any group representing disabled residents in Tower Hamlets that have engaged in discussions with Tower Hamlets council or PCL Liveable Streets project staff.

Well OK, it seems one charity talked to four disabled people. Sort of.

This is very confusing because Tower Hamlets council has been extremely vocal in stating at any opportunity that The Liveable Streets programme includes consultation with disabled charities and organisations (it does not) and that the council carried out a full EQIA (it has not) and continues to work with Real, Age UK and locally St. Hildas (no, it has not).

He who talks loudest… is rarely heard

Cllr. Kevin Brady.

Cllr. Kevin Brady (Labour, St. Peters) has posted several tweets about this issue telling residents in no uncertain terms that ‘The Liveable Streets programme includes consultation with disabled charities and organisations’ and claiming that ‘What we’ve also heard is their outrage at their movements being co-opted by otherwise abled-bodied residents to justify their own opposition and ‘the council carried out a full EQIA and continues to work with Real, Age UK and locally St. Hildas.’

As Cllr. Brady is the Labour Chief Whip and de facto spokesperson on Twitter it is reasonable to consider that what he says is Tower Hamlets Labour policy.

We have asked Cllr. Brady to clarify what he means by ‘their outrage at their movements being co-opted by otherwise abled-bodied residents to justify their own opposition’ three times but he has not replied.

The council’s claim of engagement with Real, Age UK and St. Hildas is reiterated in its documentation as you can see here.

Pretty clear. Exactly what Cllr. Brady said.

Problem is that this is not true.

So what form have the consultations between Tower Hamlets / PCL Ltd and Real, Age UK and St. Hildas taken?

Er… not much. In fact pretty much no form at all. Because there has not been any.

Real is not engaged with Liveable Streets

Real is the foremost advocacy group for disabled residents in the borough and states on its website that it is the leading disabled people’s organisation in Tower Hamlets . Real recently published a statement on Real’s involvement with Liveable Streets with the express intent of clarifying the consultation issue.

Here’s an extract.

Statement from Real. (Emphasis East End Enquirer)

Here are the extracts highlighted in red above for the sake of absolute clarity.

Real denial of engagement with LBTH #1

‘Real was not invited to support any consultation in respect of the Wapping Liveable Streets consultations. Real has been approached by officers to support them in consulting in respect of the Old Ford Road West scheme but this has not yet been organised.’

Real denial of engagement with LBTH #2

Real’s position on Liveable Streets

‘Real has received enquiries about our involvement in the public consultations by Tower Hamlets Council in respect of their Liveable Streets initiative. It would appear that there is some misinformation on this in the public domain and we consider it important to set the record straight.’

Real Public statement

Real denial of engagement with LBTH #3

‘Real, as an organisation, currently has no formal policy position on Liveable Streets.’

Real Public statement

Real denial of engagement with LBTH #4

‘It has been reported to us that people believe Real has endorsed the Liveable Streets programme. This is not the case. No such endorsement has been made, privately or publicly.’

Real Public statement

Real denial of engagement with LBTH #5

‘We have reviewed all of the publicly available material on the council’s website including original papers that went to Cabinet, equality impact assessments and the subsequent review at the Overview and Scrutiny Committee. Each of those documents includes the statement “We also continue our work with REAL, Age UK and local community groups to ensure the needs of the community are captured. After research we have not been able to find any publicly available written statement that says Real endorses this initiative. We therefore think the comments brought to our attention may be a case of stories being amplified through repetition.’

Real Public statement

Well that’s clear and many thanks to Mike Smith, CEO of Real, for taking the time to produce this statement.

Mike Smith, CEO of Real

Real has not endorsed the Liveable Streets programme and has no formal policy position on Liveable Streets and no engagement that could be construed by any reasonable person as being consultation.

We do not know what is meant by ‘stories being amplified through repetition’ (Chinese Whispers) or who this applies to.

The statement has a document at the bottom of the page headed ‘Liveablestreets – Bow Consultation’ and dated 16-7-2020 although this seems to have taken place during the Local Voices Active Members Group. Four people attended, two provided their views afterwards.

And that seems to be the extent of the work Real has done for disabled residents on Liveable Streets. Engaging with six people.

It could be argued that Real have not made much effort to engage with Liveable Streets, but this seems unfair because Tower Hamlets has made no effort whatsoever to engage with Real.

What about Age UK?

Local resident Amy West, a Real Steering Group Member, contacted Age UK and asked about its engagement with Real and got ‘a VERY straightforward response’ stating that they had one meeting with Jacinda Corlette [PCL employee] of the Liveable Streets programme which was mainly regarding access to the community center Caxton Hall in Bow.

Age UK stated that was the sum of their involvement with Liveable Streets consultation and the only other thing they agreed to do was to promote the Liveable Streets info on their site.

Zero consultation with Tower Hamlets council or PCL.

What about St. Hilda’s?

The Enquirer contacted St. Hilda’s last week and received a response from a very nice gentleman who had only been in post for nine months and while he was aware of the consultation he was not aware of any specific engagement with the Liveable Streets people.

Zero consultation with Tower Hamlets council or PCL.

So that’s Real engaging with six people, Age UK having no engagement and St. Hilda’s not knowing – which we think would be safe to assume zero engagement otherwise they would know.

Six people. By what stretch of the imagination does Tower Hamlets council, any elected members or any seconded staff consider that is consultation with disabled charities and organisations and carrying out a full EQIA and continuing to work with Real, Age UK and locally St. Hildas?

PCL secondee Chris Harrison who is Tower Hamlets Liveable Streets Programme Director has repeated these claims in emails as below.

‘As the scheme continues to be developed and implemented, we are continuing to engage with local groups, schools, community centres, as well as internal departments and partners such as transport services, REAL.’

Chris Harrison, Tower Hamlets Liveable Streets Programme Director

This is Bethnal Green resident Carol Budd’s view.

“Throughout the consultation period and since, we have engaged with members of the Liveable Streets project team from PCL Consult, Councillors, Cabinet members and the Mayor of LBTH. A number of different concerns have been raised by residents affected by different parts of the scheme. However, we are most exercised by the proposed closure of Barnet Grove.

Under current proposals it is understood that a permanent hard closure will be introduced, and while a so called concession is to consult on the location along the street for the closure, the offer is now between two hard road closure options which are the fire or the fire, no real option at all.

‘The consultation document received from PCL Consult did not ask about disability at all.’

Carol Budd

The consultation document received from PCL Consult did not ask about disability at all and this was queried with LBTH cabinet who were asked as to how people with disabilities have been consulted and their support needs taken into account? The response was that there have been facilitated groups on the topic to collate views.

When looking more closely at this, these groups were held in working hours and as part of a general discussion about transport in London. No specific correspondence has been sent to any disabled resident, or any attempts made to proactively engage residents with varying disabilities. “

LBTH ignoring disabled residents

Would someone like to explain how the council can continue to work with three local charities when it has not started? Only one charity has done anything and that is consult with six people.

Is this how Tower Hamlets council views disabled people? That they can be ignored?

Amy West tells the Enquirer that Rob Johnson (Real Engagement Officer) stated to her in a Real steering group meeting that Real have not been asked by LBTH to do their own Area Assessments regarding giving advice about the proposals and that it is something that they would have been expected to be involved in.

So why has Tower Hamlets council not asked Real about this?

Or any other disability advocacy group?

Or just stopped people in the street and asked them?

From the information we have the answer is that Tower Hamlets council, contrary to what it says, has not consulted with ‘disabled charities and organisations’ and has not carried out full EQIAs either.

Second class citizens

If this is correct why are they ignoring the disabled? Does the Tower Hamlets Labour administration consider the disabled to be second class citizens who are only genuinely engaged with when it wants its votes?

Even if it is late in the day and changes due to Liveable Streets that may well have had a negative impact have already been implemented by PCL Consult there is a legal requirement for the council to engage with the disabled and rectify those changes.

If the council has not engaged with disabled residents, and to date we have seen no evidence that it has, then Tower Hamlets council will be guilty of discriminating against them for no other reason than their ‘protected characteristic’.

Conclusion

When we started to write up the sorry story you have just read the Enquirer sent these questions to the Tower Hamlets media office.

Which document is the final Equality Impact Assessment for Liveable Streets?
What is the legal requirement to undertake a Equality Impact Assessment on this type of project?
Is an EIA undertaken for each different area or is there one for the whole Liveable Streets program of work?
Who undertakes the EIA? Is this a council officer or is there input from an external agency?
Once the EIA is completed is there any further reference to residents for them to agree / disagree with the amendments (if any)?

Then when trying to find the EQIAs asked Am I looking in the wrong place? If so, where is the correct place please?

That was a month ago and there has been no reply. Please remember this when Tower Hamlets council starts squawking that this piece is not balanced and unfair.

The Enquirer does not need to spell out what has been happening with the Equality Impact Assessments for the Liveable Streets project as it is very obvious.

What do to do?

From experience there is little to no point in residents trying to engage with Tower Hamlets council because they will be lied to as they have been lied to already.

A better approach might be to contact an organisation that deals with discrimination that can provide advice and maybe some support.

During our work we have found the information on the Equality and Human Rights Commission website to be very useful and presented to the highest standards. Well done whoever built it.

It seems (and the Enquirer is no expert) that if the Equality and Human Rights Commission thinks that a public body has taken a decision or acted (or failed to act) in a way that breaches the Equality Act 2010 or the Human Rights Act, it can issue proceedings for judicial review.

Ah! Judicial review! Those two little words which strike fear into the hearts of dodgy local authorities across the land.

A judicial review is, according to the Courts and Tribunals Judiciary (and they should know, right?) , ‘a type of court proceeding in which a judge reviews the lawfulness of a decision or action made by a public body. ‘

That seems to be what is needed here.

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