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An investigation is to be launched into the Council’s failure to set up properly or continue to support a viable, independent Equalities Agency for Luton.

Luton Equalities Agency was launched in 2007 after a widespread view that an organisation independent of the Council was needed to deal with cases of discrimination, harassment and unfair treatment. It soon found itself inundated with requests for help from members of the public who had tried approaching other organisations, but to no avail.

Its “open door” policy meant that people could walk into the offices and gain an appointment when most needed. Around 70 Employment Tribunal and similar cases came to its attention.

But the Agency struggled to get off the ground when several Trustees resigned early on, and the Council refused to release £50,000 of funding due in 2008/9. Labour then removed £100,000 of funding in their Budget this year, leaving the Agency in debt and without help.

A report demanded by the Liberal Democrats, and subsequent questioning at a Council committee, revealed that pressure was repeatedly placed on the Agency’s Trustees by officers and the Labour Portfolio Holder, Councillor Joan Bailey, to close the organisation.

Last night, the Council’s Labour Executive agreed that an investigation should be carried out by Luton Forum into what went wrong with the development of an independent Agency.

Liberal Democrat councillor Martin Pantling comments:

“ Labour have bowed to the inevitable in agreeing to an enquiry into what happened here. But even last night, senior Council figures seemed keener to close Luton Equality Agency than make it work, so I fully expect the report to be a whitewash.

“ The Executive also refused a cross-party request by a Scrutiny Committee for emergency funding to ensure the Agency can continue to operate – which again shows how pointless Scrutiny is when the Labour elite, if that isn’t a contradiction in terms, refuse to listen.

“ Meanwhile, questions remain, such as who exactly vetoed £50,000 of funding for the Agency last year, and on what grounds Labour cut the £100,000 budgeted for this year.

“ None of this suggests to me that Labour is committed to seeing an effective, independent Equalities Agency in operation in Luton. Maybe they fear what it will find.” [ENDS]

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