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Agenda Item No

 

The Vale of Glamorgan Council

 

 Scrutiny Committee (Corporate Resources): 16 October 2012

 

Report of the Managing Director

 

Public Sector Equality Duty

 

Purpose of the Report

1.             To apprise Members of the Council's responsibilities under the public sector equality duty (general duty) and the specific duties for Wales, arising from the Equality Act 2010.  

Recommendation

1.             That Members note their responsibilities under the above legislation.

Reason for the Recommendation

1.             In order to pay due regard to the legislation when making decisions on Council matters.

Background

2.             The Equality Act 2010 includes a new public sector equality duty ('the general duty') which came into force on 5 April 2011.  The general duty requires the Council to have due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations.

3.             In addition to this, the Council (as a listed body under the Act) must comply with the specific duties in Wales, designed to help performance of the general duty and to aid transparency.

4.             The specific duties in Wales cover: objectives; strategic equality plans; engagement; assessing impact; equality information; employment information; pay differences; staff training; procurement; annual reporting; publishing; Welsh Ministers' reporting; review; accessibility.  The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has produced eight guides on the specific duties which can be downloaded from its website.

5.             The specific duties required public sector organisations to draw up and publish a strategic equality plan by 2 April 2012 and include in it equality objectives (including pay objectives). 

6.             The Council adopted a Strategic Equality Plan on 14 March 2012.  It can be found on Staffnet and the Council's website (http://www.valeofglamorgan.gov.uk/our_council/equal_opportunities/strategic_equality_plan.aspx).  The Plan comments on specific duties listed above.

7.             A summary of the Council's Strategic Equality Plan can be found in Appendix A.

Relevant Issues and Options

8.             A strategic equality plan is the device used to detail information that demonstrates that the Council is meeting the general duty.  It must include information on a number of prescribed issues, such as its arrangements to identify and collect relevant equality and employment information, arrangements for assessing the likely impact on protected groups of any polices and practices, and how the Council will promote knowledge and understanding of the general and specific duties among employees.

9.             A key element of the strategic equality plan is the equality objectives.  The Council is required to publish objectives for each of the protected characteristics or to publish reasons why not.  It must also set out the steps it intends to take to meet each objective and how is intends to monitor progress.  The Strategic Equality Plan comments on this.  The advice of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Welsh Local Government Association was to have a smaller number of equality objectives and achieve them, rather than one for every characteristic and not make any significant progress in achieving real improvements.

10.        There is also a requirement to publish an equality objective to address any gender pay gap identified or else publish reasons why it has not done so.  It must have due regard to the need to have objectives to address the causes of any pay differences that seem reasonably likely to be related to any of the protected characteristics.

11.        Once approved, there can be no significant changes to the equality objectives without further engagement with representative groups and approval of those changes. 

12.        The Strategic Equality Plan is a live document and is the vehicle for containing all the information about equality work that we do and will be updated on a regular basis.  As new or updated information becomes available, such as equality and employment information, either the Plan itself will be updated or links created within it to allow people to access the information elsewhere. 

13.        It is important that Members have a sound understanding of the Equality Act 2010, the general and specific duties.  If this understanding cannot be demonstrated, then decisions can be challenged (see   Appendix B).

14.        Training for Members on the public sector equality duty was offered on 1 February 2012, 10 July 2012, and 17 July 2012.  Members who attended the training on 10 July (11 Members) requested follow up training on equality impact assessments which has been arranged for 3 and 11 October 2012.

15.        Members have been sent copies of the Welsh Local Government Association's publication "The Role of Overview and Scrutiny in Assessing Equality Performance". This provides guidance on how scrutiny committees can assist local authorities in achieving the public sector equality duty arising from the Equality Act 2010.

16.        The public sector equality duty requires that equality impact assessments are undertaken at a formative stage of policy and decision making. The Council has received correspondence from the Equality and Human Rights Commission that it will be focusing its attention as a regulator on how well local authorities are undertaking equality impact assessments.  This is because it is important to demonstrate that we are taking informed decisions with greater transparency and greater involvement of citizens in those decisions, protecting the most vulnerable in the process.

Resource Implications (Financial and Employment)

17.        As with any area of work, human resources are required to implement the Strategic Equality Plan and equality objectives.  This includes collecting and analysing information, engaging with the public and providing equality training. 

18.        The work will be undertaken within existing financial resources.

Sustainability and Climate Change Implications

19.        This work assists with the sustainability of communities by eliminating unlawful discrimination, advancing equality of opportunity and fostering good relations.

Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)

20.        The Equality Act 2010 created a new public sector duty, replacing the race, disability and gender equality duties. The duty came into force in April 2011. The duty covers age, disability, gender, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief and sexual orientation. Under the general duty, public sector organisations must have due regard to the need to:

  • eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation;
  • advance equality of opportunity between different groups;
  • foster good relations between different groups.

21.        The duty to have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination also covers marriage and civil partnership.

22.        The Equality Act gives Welsh Ministers the power to impose specific duties through regulations. The specific duties are legal requirements designed to help public bodies meet the general duty. These were published in April 2011. 

23.        The Equality and Human Rights Commission published guidance on the public sector equality duty for Wales on 8 June 2011.  It will perform its regulatory role in ensuring that listed bodies comply with the duty.  In particular, the Commission reviewed the websites of all local authorities to check that strategic equality plans and equality objectives were published by 2 April as required. 

24.        The EHRC has recently written to the Minister for Local Government and Communities confirming that it will be focusing on how local government assesses the impact of its work on equality.  It has chosen this focus because as providers of a wide range of services to the whole community, it is important that councils take informed decisions about which services to protect of expand and which could be provided by others of reduced.  The work it has already done with local authorities on this topic indicates that carrying out an equality impact assessment can enable better decision making, greater transparency and has the potential to increase the involvement of citizens in setting priorities, protect the most vulnerable, and has the potential to drive equality, social justice and improvement.  An example of one of the Council's recent equality impact assessment is provided in Appendix C.

25.        If the EHRC thinks that the Council has not complied with a public sector duty, it has the power to serve a compliance notice.  The notice may require compliance with the duty or provide an opportunity for a written proposal to show the steps which will be taken to ensure compliance. Failure to comply can result in the Commission applying to the relevant court for an order requiring compliance with all the resulting adverse publicity and monitoring of performance that this would bring.  Failure to comply with the court order would be a criminal offence.

Crime and Disorder Implications

26.        By complying with the Equality Act, the public sector equality duty (general duty) and the specific duties for Wales, primarily through the delivery of its Strategic Equality Plan, the Council will assist in promoting community cohesion by meeting the diverse needs of local people and creating equal opportunity.

Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)

27.        The Strategic Equality Plan sets out how the Council is working to meet the general duty and public sector equality duty for Wales.  The equality objectives detail the work that the Council is prioritising to address the concerns raised during the engagement process and the national equality agenda. 

Corporate/Service Objectives

28.        It is a corporate priority to work with partners to promote good governance and ensure a co-ordinated approach to delivering the shared vision for the future of the Vale.  This Plan and its objectives support each of the three associated improvement objectives:

·               to tackle those issues that matter most to local people, with customer focus at the heart of the Council’s service delivery;

·               to provide leadership in representing and promoting the interests of the local community and engage effectively with citizens and stakeholders;

·               to promote through partnership working greater co-operation with other organisations that deliver services in the Vale, thereby improving the quality of life of its citizens.

29.        It is also a corporate priority to manage the Council’s workforce, money, information and assets efficiently, effectively and securely.  This proposal supports each of the associated improvement objectives:

·               to provide effective corporate management and to improve the use of resources in meeting our strategic objectives;

·               to manage, support and develop our employees to enable them to deliver and maintain the Council’s services to the highest possible standard;

·               to make best use of our assets and to procure good, sustainable services and facilities.

Policy Framework and Budget

30.        This is a matter for Executive decision.

Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)

31.        The public sector equality duty for Wales requires that the Council involves people representative of protected groups to set its equality objectives, prepare and review a strategic equality plan.

32.        To achieve this in relation to the Strategic Equality Plan, the Council invited 67 voluntary groups and our Local Service Board partners to participate in the engagement process.  The Council's Consultation Officer organised 8 sessions with support groups operating in the Vale of Glamorgan (reaching over 100 residents with protected characteristics) and 16 organisations were represented in two engagement events that took place in mid November 2011.  Feedback from these meetings informed and shaped the equality objectives.

33.        Feedback from the Corporate Equality Working Group endorsed the equality objectives that have been prioritised.   

34.        The draft Strategic Equality Plan and equality objectives were presented to, discussed with and endorsed by the Equalities Consultative Forum.

35.        There was a period of consultation on the draft Strategic Equality Plan and equality objectives, internally and externally, to generate more feedback and allow the Plan and equality objectives to be developed further as necessary.

Relevant Scrutiny Committee

36.        Corporate Resources.

Background Papers

Appendix A Summary of the Strategic Equality Plan

Appendix B Case Law: (Brown) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Appendix C Equality Impact Assessment of Corporate and Customer Services

 

Contact Officer

Nicola Hinton, Corporate Equalities Officer

 

Officers Consulted

Bev Noon, Operational Manager - Corporate Policy and Communications

Huw Isaac, Head of Performance and Development

 

Responsible Officer:

Sian Davies, Managing Director

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