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Swansea Council leader David Phillips on why equality remains such a priority.

By South Wales Evening Post  |  Posted: April 03, 2014

Councillors John Bayliss and Christine Richards celebrate the change of law regarding gay marriage in Swansea's Castle Square.

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LAST Saturday was an historic day, more so than perhaps it was given credit for. For centuries in this country and, in many cultures around the world, only the union of a man and a woman could be described in law as a marriage.

But on Saturday, March 29, at Swansea Register Office, two men — Darren Williams and Frederico Podeschi — were among the first same-sex couples in Wales to marry. Darren said on BBC TV they were marrying because they loved each other and nothing else mattered. Quite right too.

That's it in a nutshell. A centuries-old barrier to equality and fairness was lifted in law and male and female couples across England and Wales are now taking advantage of it, not because they want to be part of history, but because they love each other.

Equality is a serious issue. The Equal Pay Act was passed way back in 1970, but it's taken practically a generation for some women to start enjoying the fruits of their labour at the same rate as men doing the same work. When you think about it, that's a pretty basic right.

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Almost 45 years on from the Equal Pay Act and a couple of days before people of the same sex were allowed to tie the knot with the same legal standing as a woman and a man, I was speaking about equality at a Welsh Local Government Association-organised conference.

It brought together delegates from local government, the NHS and equalities practitioners to think about how we can continue to focus on equality and fairness in the increasingly austere future faced by public services in Wales and the UK.

From my point of view, I told the conference that in facing up to future budget decisions we would need to focus on outcomes to achieve equality and fairness, and we should not get too bogged down in process.

In Swansea, it's no secret we have to save £45 million over the next few years.

We know it will mean reducing budgets on services, doing different things as well as doing things differently. In February, we took the first step down a road which was not of our making with a budget which reduced our spend by £26.5 million in the coming year.

It is not something we could have achieved without listening and learning from the people of Swansea. We explained what the issues were, the ways in which we hoped to tackle them and sought views so we could take them into account before making our final decisions.

How would any of that have been possible if equality and fairness was not at the heart of what we were trying to achieve?

The Sustainable Swansea — fit for the future consultation didn't include a £300,000 Community Transformation Fund when we started out. By the end it did and that was a direct result of listening to people.

Part of our approach to being a leaner, smarter and more efficient council in future years is to support local people to self-help or do some of those things which previously they expected the council to do.

Some of those who were prepared to step forward told us they would need to be supported to set up their own organisations to put together business cases so they could bid for government and other grants to achieve their aims.

Some of these new community services may well be providing support to older people, the young, the poor, the vulnerable, ethnic minorities and the gay and lesbian communities instead of the council. We shall see.

If Sustainable Swansea — fit for the future did not set out to protect and promote equality by age, gender, race and sexuality, we would have faced a furore. But that wasn't why our approach specifically aimed to take into account the views of those who too often bear the brunt of social inequality.

It was because we wanted to listen and learn from all our communities, it was because we knew our proposals for change would improve if we did and it was because it was the right thing to do. As was allowing couples who love each other to get married.

David Phillips

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  • sonofsand  |  April 05 2014, 3:55PM

    What a shame that he wasn't able to stop the wretched White Pride rally in Swansea city centre. Sadly another political hack full of puffed up bravado but incapable of putting brave words into action.

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