Hull City Council - a dedicated Access Officer makes a big difference *
Summary: George Brentnall is an access officer for Hull City Council that looks specifically at access issues in the city affecting disabled people (for example digital access, access to streets and the built environment, access to council services etc). RNIB's Regional Campaigns Officer for Yorkshire and the Humber works closely with him. Her main observation is that equality officers in other Yorkshire local authorities covering all "protected characteristics" work mainly on policy but find it more difficult to achieve change. George's role is more practical: involving local disabled people, getting their views and feedback on the council's services and local area; securing internal support for changes to services or policies; and delivering change.
Action taken: George Brentnall makes a huge difference in the area, is well known and has the advantage of both operating inside the council so he can influence change from within, but advocating on behalf of local disabled people, so he can argue for more accessible services with credibility. He is disabled himself. One main advantage is that he has been around longer than a number of equality officers in other councils and this means he is respected and listened to. This isn't certain but perhaps his focused brief on access and disability means he can get more done than were he to occupy a cross-cutting "equalities" brief. He also wrote a guide for local residents on disability-friendly buildings/services in Hull. Anecdotally there is some evidence to suggest this had the benefit of encouraging people to make their services more accessible to disabled people in order that they could be featured in the guide.
Outcome: Other practical examples of the good work a dedicated access officer for disabled people can do, driven by and able to use the Equality Duty, include (in George's case): getting Hull City Council to rethink its approach to the licensing and display of a-boards outside local shops and businesses. Disabled people - through George - explained why these are often placed in locations that obstruct people with mobility difficulties. Three or four years ago the council took a look at their approach to licensing a-boards and George was key to the council's decision to take a tougher approach. This suggests that there is huge value in councils employing an officer dedicated to the delivery of equality objectives who can drive through changes from within the council and champion the regular and meaningful involvement of disabled residents.
* Source: Joint response to the Government's Review of the Public Sector Equality Duty from a group of disability charities and disabled people’s organisations including: Action Disability Kensington and Chelsea, Action on Hearing Loss, Disability Rights UK, Inclusion London, Leonard Cheshire Disability, Mind, National AIDS Trust, Royal National Institute of Blind People, Scope and Sense