Wirral Council has been urged to not repeat past mistakes ahead of potential cuts to services.
Community interest company Together All Are Able (TAAA) was set up in 2011 to advocate for disabled people in Wirral and in 2022, they accused Wirral Council of breaching the Equality Act 2010 for not providing an easy-read version of its budget consultation.
An easy-read document improves accessibility for those who may find it difficult to read by giving important information in simpler words and pictures, making some words bold, and offering explanations for certain terms.
Wirral Council apologised following the criticism and Cllr Janette Williamson, then-leader of the council at a February senior committee meeting said, “We do as a council make every effort to ensure easy read versions of consultations are available wherever possible.
“On this occasion, the exceptional scale of the financial challenge for the budget setting 23-24 and a timetable for that process restricted somewhat what we were able to do this year and alternative arrangements were put in place.
“That said it’s the right thing to do and every voice should be heard. It’s therefore our intention to build this into the time frame in future years.”
In October, discussions are ongoing with councillors about what savings the local authority will have to make as it faces a £15m budget gap this year. Wirral’s council leader Cllr Paul Stuart previously said further cuts to services will have to be made for the council to balance its budget.
However, TAAA said they have not heard from the council despite sending a letter in May and they want reassurance any public feedback consultation is as accessible as possible.
Vicky Forfar, a director of the group, said, “People need to be able to understand what it is they are having a say on and sometimes that can be hard at the best of times but if you are disabled or you have autism on top, it can be even more of a challenge.
“Even if you do have a good level of understanding, a lot of people can’t read full stop through no fault of their own. If you present a document with a load of words with no pictures, you might as well present a blank piece of paper.
“It really goes a long way in helping someone understand and that is why I feel it’s so crucially important.”
The group pointed out an easy-read consultation wasn’t provided in the council’s recent 20mph consultation, a policy the council says will improve safety for vulnerable road users.
Jenny Carter, another director, said, “If it is not accessible, we can’t support other people. If we can’t understand it ourselves, then we can’t help them,” adding: “Other people that we help rely on those services.”
She added, “My point is if that is the attitude with 20mph speed limits, they are going to have the same attitude to people taking part in the budget consultation.”
Asked if it could be a mistake, Cllr Keiran Murphy, who is also a director of the company, said, “If it is a mistake, it’s a recurring mistake. It is one they have made year on year and what they put it right, they have put it right at our request.”
A Council spokesperson said, “We are currently working through the budget setting process for 2024/25. While we’re not yet at the consultation stage, we will ensure that accessibility needs are taken into consideration.”
Image: Together All Are Able members Vicky Forfar, Jenny Carter, Cllr Kieran Murphy, and Russell Kennedy