The government has refused to release its own analysis of how the proposed closure of nearly 1,000 rail ticket offices will impact on disabled people and other groups protected under the Equality Act.
On the day before the end of a consultation into the proposed closure of most ticket offices in England, the Department for Transport (DfT) rejected a request from disabled campaigners to see its equality impact assessment (EIA).
Although the assessments carried out by the 13 individual train companies have been released (see separate story), the government’s assessment of the overall impact of the closures has not been made available.
The disabled-led campaigning organisation Transport for All (TfA) had asked to see this assessment through a freedom of information request.
But DfT denied the request and said that an EIA might still be used to “formulate” a government policy decision on ticket office closures, if passenger watchdogs object to any of the proposed closures and train companies decide to ignore those objections.
It claimed that its ministers and officials “need a safe space away from public scrutiny” to develop their policy, while train companies need to be confident that they can share information “in an environment which suitably encourages free and frank discussion without fear that information will be prematurely released to the public”.
But TfA said it was “unacceptable that the general public has been denied access to the Government’s own programme-wide assessment and analysis of the proposals, information that could have aided in shaping responses to the consultation”.
TfA has asked the government to reconsider its decision not to release the equality impact assessment, arguing that DfT had “deprived the public of vital information that would have shaped their responses” and that it was “overwhelmingly in the public interest for us to have a full account of what the accessibility implications of these plans are on a system wide level”.
It added: “It is only the Government who continue to try and evade scrutiny. We can only speculate what it is they might be trying to hide.”
Baroness Falkner, chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said last week that the equality watchdog was “particularly disappointed that the Department for Transport has not yet shown us or published an equality impact assessment on their proposals”.
TfA has previously shown that the proposed closures would have a “disastrous” impact on disabled rail passengers.
It has described how the details within proposals published by the train operating companies “completely contradict” pledges they have made around access to support for disabled passengers, staffing levels, ticket sales, and the treatment of rail staff.
And it has concluded that the proposed closures “will make it impossible for disabled people to access the support we need to travel by rail”.
There were more than 680,000 responses to the consultation by the time it closed on Friday (1 September).
The train companies can then refer their proposals to transport secretary Mark Harper if they disagree with the conclusions of the two watchdogs.
A note from the editor:
Please consider making a voluntary financial contribution to support the work of DNS and allow it to continue producing independent, carefully-researched news stories that focus on the lives and rights of disabled people and their user-led organisations.
Please do not contribute if you cannot afford to do so, and please note that DNS is not a charity. It is run and owned by disabled journalist John Pring and has been from its launch in April 2009.
Thank you for anything you can do to support the work of DNS…