There is a lot of ‘noise’ coming from public sector organisations about equality outcomes at the moment.
To give just three examples, the Scottish Government held a meeting with equality groups earlier this week to report on the progress they are making with setting their outcomes; a number of organisations are consulting on final draft outcomes and Caledonian University have brought in Simon Fanshawe to facilitate an equality outcomes summit.
Under the Equality Act 2010 (Specific Duties) (Scotland) Regulations 2012, listed public bodies need to publish a set of equality outcomes no later than 30th April 2013. These outcomes set out the change that they want to see related to their General Equality Duty to eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations between different groups of people.
The regulations say ‘no later than 30th April 2013’, however most public bodies’ outcome setting processes are running very close to the deadline. They could have begun working on these from at least May 2012 when the regulations were first agreed. So it's worrying that so many of these listed bodies have agreed their strategic plans and budgets for the year ahead before even completing their consultations on their equality outcomes.
Much criticism of the previous equality duties on race, disability and gender focussed on the disconnect between actions to meet the equality duties and high level strategy. It appears that this disconnect will continue under the new duties, resulting in planning and decision making processes that fail to meet the needs of those most at risk of disadvantage.
Outcomes are not the only thing that listed bodies need to report on by 30th April. They must also publish a report on progress made to embed the General Equality Duty throughout their functions. This is referred to as mainstreaming the equality duty, and is arguably impossible to achieve without appropriate links to strategic planning.
In light of this, during the consultation on the Scottish Specific Equality Duties, CRER argued that the mainstreaming duty should be listed before the outcomes duty in the regulations. To their credit, the Scottish Government took this point on board in redrafting the Specific Duties. However as 30th April approaches, so far we have heard nothing from any public body on the mainstreaming duty.
Public bodies also have a duty to assess the equality impact of proposed policies and practices, and to publish the results of these assessments. Impact assessment is particularly important when public bodies are making financial decisions – like setting their annual budgets. All 32 Scottish Local Authorities have agreed or are about to agree their final budgets for 2013/14 but trying to find the impact assessments of these budgets has proven difficult. It seems that the duty to publish the results of assessments is being interpreted in different ways by different public bodies. As the requirement to publish information “in a manner that makes it accessible to the public” only applies to the duties on mainstreaming, outcomes and equal pay issues, this is difficult to challenge. Guidance from the EHRC on publishing impact assessments is unhelpful as it offers no practical suggestions on publication, for example publishing online or through other transparent means.
With funding from the Scottish Government Equality Unit, CRER will be working to make these and other aspects of the Public Sector Equality Duties more accessible. Our public sector equality duty portal is gathering a range of Equality Impact Assessments and other documents related to the Public Sector Duties in one central online hub – see http://www.crer.org.uk/portal. In addition, information, training and resources are being developed through CRER’s Our Communities, Your Duties project which aims to help organisations to understand and work with the Public Sector Equality Duties. The first stage of this project is a survey for minority ethnic organisations in Scotland to identify how we can best carry out this work. Please help us to ensure as many minority ethnic organisations as possible can get involved by sharing the survey link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/KN9FT6N