Money-saving efficiencies of local councils can be ‘discriminatory’ and will be challenged when the Equality Bill comes into force, trade union activists have said.
Speaking at Unison’s national conference, activists say they will use equality legislation to combat local council savings.
They claim that outsourcing and shared-services deals are seen as areas of particular concern to female staff.
But Gillian Hibberd, president of the Public Sector People Managers’ Association, said the suggestion was “disappointing”.
“It would be a significant step backwards if things moved in a more adversarial direction,” she said, adding that more legal challenges had the potential to be a significant drain on time and resources.
The news will heighten fears that the Equality Bill will put a costly and bureaucratic burden on public bodies at a time of economic uncertainty.
Mark Greenburgh, public sector partner at law firm Wragge & Co, said it would be a mistake to use equalities legislation as a back-door route to challenging outsourcing and other changes in service delivery.
“The current economic climate makes fighting cuts on these sorts of grounds less likely to succeed rather than more likely,” he said.
“At a time when councils are increasingly looking to save money on back office services to spend it on front line services, it is difficult to imagine such moves gaining public support.”
The Tory leader of Hammersmith & Fulham council, Stephen Greenhalgh, also criticised the suggestion.
“Using equalities legislation to stop councils pursuing reform is a retrograde step,” he said.
“Equalities legislation is there to remove discrimination, it isn’t there to stop people delivering change.”
The Equality Bill is a huge piece of legislation which aims to consolidate years of equality laws into one Act of Parliament.
Christian groups are concerned about proposals to narrow existing exemptions that allow them to act in keeping with their religious ethos.
The Bill also proposes to place a positive duty on public bodies like schools and the police to actively promote gay and transsexual rights.