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Yesterday, AMs debated the Communities Committee report on the blue badge scheme in Wales – summarised here.
A lifeline for our communities
Committee Chair, John Griffiths AM (Lab, Newport East), said the inquiry attracted higher-than-average engagement with the public, demonstrating how important blue badges were.
13 of 19 recommendations were accepted or accepted in principle. He was disappointed the Welsh Government rejected a concessionary parking scheme for those people who fall just short of blue badge requirements as well as an automatic renewal system for people with lifelong or deteriorating conditions.
“….the blue badge scheme is vital to enable many people to live independently, and the prospect of being unable to have a badge causes a great deal of anxiety. These are important issues, and I hope the Welsh Government can re-consider some of our rejected recommendations to ensure the scheme operates as effectively as possible for all our communities across the length and breadth of Wales.”
– Committee Chair, John Griffiths AM
Shadow Communities Minister, Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales), said he’s long called for temporary blue badges but previous Welsh Government proposals didn’t go far enough. He was also worried that the assessment process will continue to let disabled people down if those making the decisions didn’t have mandatory disability awareness training.
“…..how many times have we seen Labour AMs note the unfairness of disability assessments when they’re conducted by the Department for Work and Pensions? How many times have we recognised the importance of appeals against their decisions and the importance of ensuring that staff understand the needs and barriers that people face?….it’s only when we have robust appeals processes and staff who are properly trained that we find that these problems are reduced. So, I’m disappointed that these recommendations have been rejected.”
– Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda)
Dawn Bowden AM (Lab, Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney) said this was an issue which crosses her desk fairly regularly and her office has a good track record of getting cases reviewed and decisions overturned. While acknowledging the Welsh Government’s rejection of a concessionary scheme, would they consider a temporary blue badge authorisation while applications are being processed and considered?
“….the National Autistic Society Cymru are quoted in the report saying that the potential benefits from including cognitive impairments (in blue badge applications) hasn’t been truly recognised. And this is something that I have seen really strongly within my casework. I’ve dealt with numerous cases where people with anxiety and other mental health issues have been denied a badge….I’d say that this group are disproportionately affected when there appears to be any move towards the tightening up of applications.”
– Vikki Howells AM (Lab, Cynon Valley)
Caroline Jones AM (BXP, South Wales West) believed the government had to get over its reluctance to issue instructions to local councils as the system continues to let disabled people down. Jenny Rathbone AM (Lab, Cardiff Central) warned against a black market in blue badges developing – as it has in parts of London – to get around parking charges.
Review of eligibility criteria planned (with conditions attached)
Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South), said any review of eligibility criteria would require further research and discussions with the other UK nations.
“….my officials have been holding discussions with the other three nations to share information about current eligibility to determine whether there are justified reasons for amending it. I believe that any further changes to eligibility criteria can only be made if there is a solid evidence base to support such changes. I do not wish to reduce the availability of parking concessions to current badge holders, which is nearly 7% of the population.”
– Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates
The Minister added that abuse of the blue badge scheme couldn’t be ignored; over a period of 12 days between April and June, 15 badges were seized in Cardiff for misuse, while in Bridgend in just two days 16 examples of serious misuse were found and 10 went to further enforcement action.
The government’s rejection of some of the recommendations shouldn’t be interpreted as meaning they didn’t want to address some of the matters raised in the inquiry subject to further discussions with local authorities.