An insult to the disabled

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IT IS ironic that, at a time when the Government is doing everything it can to cut benefit fraud, many local authorities are ignoring an abuse that is happening on a daily basis, one that insults the disabled and effectively amounts to theft from the public purse.

Investigations by this newspaper have shown that some of the largest councils in the region are making no effort to crack down on blue-badge offenders, those unscrupulous people who put signs in their cars indicating that they are disabled when, in reality, they have no disability whatsoever.

This is an abuse which councils have appeared happy to tolerate for many years. Indeed, their complacency is summed up by a spokesman for North Yorkshire County Council, who boasts of a “robust fraud policy” which has meant that the local authority has not had to invalidate any badges in the past three years. Yet Disability Action Yorkshire, which is based in Harrogate, says it witnesses examples of misuse on a regular basis.

North Yorkshire, Barnsley and Hull have failed to prosecute anyone for badge-related fraud in the past two years, while fraudsters appear to be on even safer ground in Sheffield where there have been no prosecutions for five years.

Yet it is not only the genuinely disabled who are suffering as a result of this inaction. Councils, usually so eager to issue penalties to hapless motorists who commit the slightest parking infraction, are themselves missing out on an opportunity to recoup some of the public money to which these fraudsters are helping themselves.

After deciding last year to begin prosecutions, for instance, Leeds Council has secured more than £30,000 in fines and costs. A truly robust anti-fraud policy would be bringing in this type of return across the region, as well as teaching motorists that stealing disabled parking places is not some minor infringement of the rules.

Drivers allowed to get away with blue-badge fraud will be only too quick to assume that other rules are there to be broken, too, unless councils resolve now to treat this matter with the seriousness it merits.

Can new runways benefit North?

THE PROPOSAL to increase airport capacity in the South-East has led to much debate in this region over the effect on airports such as Leeds Bradford.

Would a third runway at Heathrow, for example, take business from regional airports, or would the expansion of a so-called hub airport in London have the spin-off benefit of generating far more traffic for Yorkshire?

It has fallen to the environmental movement, however, to declare the debate over. According to green groups, a new runway in the South-East would immediately stifle growth at regional airports, thereby worsening the North-South divide, for the simple reason that there are strict limits on Britain’s carbon-dioxide emissions.

It would be impossible, they say, to expand capacity in the South-East and still meet Britain’s climate-change targets without closing regional airports or severely limiting their operations. They conclude, therefore, that Britain faces a simple choice: either expand Heathrow or Gatwick, or allow regional airports to continue to grow. It is impossible to do both.

Or is it? To more pragmatic observers, there is a third option: change the present draconian emissions targets so that they are less of a straitjacket on Britain’s economic growth, both national and regional.

But that, of course, would demand flexible thinking and a willingness to compromise, neither of which have played much part in this debate so far.

Giving older workers a voice

REGULAR READERS of The Yorkshire Post will know that few are better than Ros Altmann at analysing the problems faced by the older generation and proposing bright and constructive solutions.

And it seems that at least someone in the Government has been paying attention, with the news that the Department for Work and Pensions has appointed Dr Altmann as its Older Workers’ Business Champion.

It is Dr Altmann’s firm belief that the nation’s attitude to older workers must be redefined, so that they are seen as a valuable resource rather than a burden to be written off and forgotten about, and that the older generation should see retirement as a process, rather than an event, and one that comes with all kinds of opportunities of its own.

If the notorious Whitehall machine allows her to operate freely, Dr Altmann could bring real innovative thinking to Government policy and it is only to be hoped that politicians and mandarins alike listen to what she has to say.