Greater London Authority and equality objectives
Approach taken to developing equality objectives
At the end of last year, the GLA produced interim race, gender and disability equality schemes which underwent public consultation via a series of round table events and through online surveys. These involved organisations with specific equalities interests, as well as a wider public audience. As the GLA explained during its consultation exercises, these were only ever intended as drafts until the Equality Act was introduced, and the feedback received on these draft schemes would be disseminated to every GLA department to form the basis of the organisation’s new equalities objectives. The team tasked with developing the new equality objectives worked with the policy teams of each directorate to explore how they could make progress on the priorities that were emerging. This involved discussion about what it was felt each directorate could expect to achieve and how its success would be measured. This created a long-list of equality objectives co-created with each of the GLA’s directorates. These have since been reduced down to a smaller set for the GLA as a whole to live up to. The equality objectives that the GLA is now committed to have therefore grown out of public consultation and its own policy staff, across the organisation.
The team leading the work has now presented its complete set of objectives back to staff, along with information on what they are required to do and by when. The team plans to run open surgeries once a month where colleagues can ask about the new legislation, their responsibilities as individuals, and the requirements around equality impact assessments (EIAs). The message to staff is that EIAs should not feel like a bureaucratic inconvenience, but can provide a helpful safety net in certain situations, hence the key thing is to realise when they can be most valuable. Guidance for staff is also available online.
The impact of austerity
One specific challenge created by councils’ financial pressures is that of in-house expertise being lost and not replaced. This creates an added incentive to mainstream strong equalities awareness and practice throughout organisations. The Equality Act also requires that ‘decision makers’ are aware of the requirements of the Act and the impact of decisions taken. The nature of the GLA means that its role is more about influencing a positive outcome for Londoners and supporting the way that services are delivered, rather than delivering those services itself. The Mayor and the GLA see their main responsibilities around equality as promoting a strong business case for equalities and ensuring it is an integral part of its own core business – why it is vital to progress, to monitor, and to engage all parts of an organisation in the process. The climate of austerity makes it particularly important that public services remain convinced of its value, yet the GLA at the same time has to be mindful that resources for all areas of council activity are under pressure. They acknowledge that councils will be taking tough decisions about spending, but the message is that those tough decisions still need to be made fairly, and scrutinised with that in mind to avoid the financial impact and reputational damage of possible successful legal challenge.
Using data to prioritise objectives
As part of the ‘Equal Life Chances for All’ framework, an annual monitoring report is produced detailing a series of measures including data on school attainment, employment and civic participation. These are flagged on a traffic light basis and are regularly updated, highlighting the critical areas relating to equalities, and therefore stimulating debate with the GLA’s partners about certain topics as priorities for London. On top of that, the GLA has sought to prioritise objectives where it is in the best position to have an impact, so prioritisation means asking the questions, ‘what are our statutory responsibilities’ and ‘where does the mayor have the most influence?’ This meant that much was retained from the old equality scheme around themes such as health and housing, along with some new ones related to sport and volunteering. GLA staff were told the objectives they worked-up for their part of the organisation had to have an impact on equality and make some kind of difference to communities – even if it would take longer than a term of office to achieve – and that ‘inward-looking’ objectives would not be sufficient.
What is the GLA’s narrative around its approach to fairness and equalities work in London? Has the new legislation changed this at all from what it was previously?
Neither the new legislation nor the economic climate is altering the GLA’s core narrative around fairness and equalities. Its ambition of ‘achieving equal life chances for all’ aims to sum up the Mayor’s commitment to equality and fairness, as reflected in the London Plan and in the Strategic Plan for London. Equality and diversity is one of the Statutory Deputy Mayor’s portfolios, and directors actively follow progress. The Equal Life Chances for All Delivery Group, which leads on turning the GLA’s equalities framework into a reality, is chaired by Statutory Deputy Mayor Richard Barnes. It also brings together senior equality managers from the fire service, police, and Transport for London. Together, these organisations are working consistently to ensure they are living up to the requirements of the legislation – and their own commitments that go beyond that.
What will be the accountability arrangements be for the equality objectives?
Officers are at present developing a monitoring process, to be launched early next year, when staff will be reminded what their objectives are and when they need to be realised.
Each directorate will have a designated contact in the Diversity and Social Policy Team to offer support and follow progress. Directorates will report on their progress each year, and an annual compliance report will summarise performance from across the organisation to the GLA’s directors. These reports will also be made available to a wider audience online as part of efforts to be as transparent and accountable as possible.
* Fairness and Equality – Leading in London Towards Good Practice: Key learning points from a development project 2010 – 2012, Report to London Councils - June 2012