Some public sector organisations or those carrying out arm’s length management roles for public sector organisations might make a decision to not continue with the assessments after the loosening up of requirements but surely something needs to be in place to demonstrate the ‘due regard’ to equality still required by the government. In fact according to the recent government commissioned review into the Equality Duty one of the recommendations within the paper to government was that organisations are not doing enough in this area and whilst they do not recommend tighter control they are asking the public sector to make sure current processes are robust.
This freedom of approach to gathering information reminds me of conversations several years ago when the Inland Revenue reduced the form filling on Self-assessment Tax Returns for those running smaller businesses, some of my colleagues said to me ‘great we only have to fill in 3 boxes instead of pages of questions’ what they failed to realise that the gathering, record keeping and evidence that might be requested still had to be kept in fact the work there had not changed it was simply the ease of recording that differed. There is nothing in this example stopping the Inland Revenue asking a series of further questions or investigating the small business when they wished to. So what really had changed here? Not of course the risk of getting it wrong or the expected level of book-keeping but it was simply a perception that things were easier now.
So what might public sector organisations take from this example when working with their teams? Well it’s the same in the sense that the government is saying we will not routinely monitor you through the duty or request you publish quite so much information in fact we will provide you with the decision making approaches you take to recording actions, outcomes and considerations but it’s inevitable that should things go wrong evidence will be requested, monitoring information scrutinised and decisions questioned, so a sensible approach is to keep something in place to avoid such situations. In addition of course the risk is not simply a review by the Equality Commission but the cost to your organisation of error not spotted of which there are many examples – a recent high profile one would be Birmingham City Council in respect of equal pay now running into a huge and damaging bill to pay. But small mistakes are costly also both financially and on reputation and can be so easily avoided.
It is also recommended within the review into the Equality Duty that responsibility for Equality inspections/reviews move from the Equality Commission and are instead spread across sector regulatory bodies this means that inspections would pick up failings in equality management quicker so therefore increasing the scrutiny powers perhaps of organisations like the Quality Care Commission, Ofsted and other bodies. So what do you show them when they visit? What evidence might you have in place for ‘due regard’ taken in the planning and how can you show them the outcomes of your great work?
Again from the Inland Revenue Example we should learn from perception, why do employees, managers and department heads steer away from the completing Equality Impact Assessments? It might be the pages they have to fill in, the perceived long process or simply the very name sends shivers down their spine and therefore they put it off for another day. So with the change in flexibility offered by the government now and the fresh knowledge that scrutiny is unlikely to go away is it time to change the perception of Equality Impact Assessments in your organisation. Perhaps stripping the process back, reducing unnecessary questions or even changing the name of the form – I would much more happily complete an Equality Review Form than an Equality Impact Assessment! It is all around perception.
Wave-length has been working with some organisations to provide a wide range of services around this area
- Facilitating workshops to help strengthen learning and participation by managers of the process (see our events page) www.wave-length.org.uk or follow this link http://www.wave-length.org.uk/do-equality-impact-assessments-fill-you-with-dread/
- Working with Boards/Trusts so that they have the knowledge to question and
- To help directly in the improvement of the process by reducing questions creating easy follow approaches and developing an approach that managers perceive to be more affective
Or you can contact Wave-length direct through firstname.lastname@example.org to see how we might assist your organisation.