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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee held on 23/01/2006
Update on Equality Legislation and the Council's Race Equality Scheme



APPENDIX H
Waverley Borough Council

CORPORATE OVERVIEW AND SCRUTINY COMMITTEE – 23RD JANUARY 2006
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Title:
UPDATE ON EQUALITY LEGISLATION AND THE COUNCIL’S RACE EQUALITY SCHEME
[Wards Affected: All]
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Summary and purpose:

The purpose of this report is to advise members of new and pending equality legislation and to consider progress on the Council’s Race Equality Scheme.
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Environmental implications:

There are no direct environmental implications arising out of this report.

Social / community implications:

The content of this report is directly relevant to the Council’s objective of ensuring equality of opportunity in all of the Council’s activities.

E-Government implications:

There are no direct environmental implications arising out of this report.

Resource and legal implications:

The report considers the staffing implications of progressing the Council’s equality agenda but makes no direct recommendations either in respect of staffing or financial resources.

The report addresses equality legislation that impacts upon the Council and its activities. It also advises on actions that are being taken to help ensure that the Council meets its statutory responsibilities.

Introduction

1. Members of the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee should note that the description of the legislative changes set out below is a synopsis of the recent changes and the consequential key issues for Waverley. It is not a detailed and complete analysis of all current equality legislation.

Update on Equality Legislation

Gender Equality

2. The Employment Equality (Sex Discrimination) Regulations 2005 came into effect on 1st October 2005. The Regulations amend the definition of indirect discrimination, which now prohibits any provision, criterion or practice that puts or would put a woman (or man) at a particular disadvantage except where the employer can justify that they are a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. The Regulations also introduce a prohibition of harassment on grounds of sex and sexual harassment (unwanted sexual advances).

3. The ‘Duty to Promote Gender Equality’ - Proposals to introduce a public sector duty to promote gender equality. The detailed proposals, drawn up in consultation with government departments, wider public sector and external stakeholders, centre around 3 main components obliging public authorities to: -

identify and implement specific gender equality goals;
develop and publish an equal pay policy statement; and
assess the impact of new policies and changes to services on men and women – allowing negative effects to be mitigated.

4. Consultation on these proposals closed on 12th January 2006.

Race Equality

Revised Code of Practice.

5. This takes effect from 6th April 2006 when it replaces the original Employment Code of Practice (the 1984 Code). It is a statutory Code in that it has been approved by the Secretary of State and laid before Parliament. The Code does not impose any legal obligations as such. However, the Code can be used as evidence in any legal proceedings brought under the Race Relations Act 1976 and all subsequent amending legislation.

6. This is a document of 112 pages. It is currently being used to review Waverley's recruitment and employment procedures to assess whether any amendments are necessary. This work is being done within the Personnel Section but supported by the Equality Advisory Group.

Disability Rights

7. The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) has now been amended by the Disability Discrimination Act 2005. In headlines, the new Act: -

imposes a duty on local authorities to promote Disability Equality. The Disability Rights Commission has produced what is also a statutory Code of Practice (126 pages) that is currently being reviewed by officers; brings Members within the scope of the DDA, i.e. it would be unlawful for a local authority to discriminate, either directly or indirectly, against their Members in carrying out official business; and extends the DDA to cover, effectively from the point of diagnosis, people with HIV infection, cancer or multiple sclerosis.

8. The Government, through the Disability Rights Commission has produced a Revised Code of Practice on Part 3 of the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 for consultation. This is headed ‘Rights of Access: Services and Premises’. The changes in this Code principally affect: -

Public authorities, some of whose functions have previously been excluded; Private clubs whose activities regarding their members were previously excluded; and The housing sector with important new duties being placed on those selling, letting, controlling and managing property.

9. The consultation period closed on 14th November 2005 with the expected publication of this revised Code being in the Summer of 2006. Your officers felt it unnecessary to comment on this draft Code as the functions of a district council have been subject, unequivocally, to the provisions of the DDA.

Employment Equality – Sexual orientation

10. The Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 made it unlawful, from 1st December 2003, to discriminate on grounds of a person’s sexuality. Waverley's terms and conditions of employment have, where necessary, been amended to reflect the changes in legislation.

11. Within a similar context, the Civil Partnership Act 2004, which came into force on 5th December 2005 and which has enabled, from 21st December 2005, same sex couples to register as civil partners, has important considerations from an employment perspective, in particular, pension provisions. Staff have been advised of the most significant issues and, similarly, amendments to Waverley's terms and conditions of employment have been made to reflect the changes in legislation.

Employment Equality – Religion of Belief

12. The Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 made it unlawful, from 2nd December 2003, to discriminate on grounds of a person’ s religion or belief.

Employment Equality – Age

13. The Government proposes to introduce legislation to make it unlawful to discriminate on grounds of age in employment matters.

14. The latest consultation document, Equality and Diversity: Coming of Age, and accompanying draft Regulations ‘The Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006’ were published in July 2005. With the approval of Parliament, these Regulations will come into force on 1st October 2006.

15. The key points of the proposed legislation can be summarised as follows:

A new default retirement age of 65. Employers will have a duty to consider requests to work beyond retirement age. Direct and indirect age discrimination will be unlawful unless objectively justified. No upper age limit for unfair dismissal. Ageist harassment will be unlawful. Changes to statutory redundancy pay to eliminate ageist elements. Service-related benefits to be retained provided certain conditions satisfied. Insurance benefits must not be denied on grounds of age unless objectively justified. Occupational pensions are largely, but not entirely, excluded from the impact of the Regulations.

Review of Waverley's Race Equality Scheme

16. To meet a statutory requirement, the Council, at its meeting of 29th July 2003, adopted a Race Equality Scheme. A copy the Race Equality Statement and the Action Plan for delivering the Scheme is attached as Annexe 1.

17. The Action Plan has been annotated to show the progress that has been made but, in summary, the progress has been limited and delivery on the Action Plan is behind schedule.

18. In part, that is a resource issue. Members and officers have worked on the principle that delivering the equality agenda should be attempted within existing resources. However, the main barrier to progress has been the limited number of minority ethnic people in the Waverley community and the absence of representative groups to make contact with and consult with.

19. Waverley's position is not exceptional in Surrey and your officers drew the conclusion that progress would be more likely achieved by working in partnership.

20. Some information was exchanged with the Local Strategic Partnership (LSP) but the main focus for partnership working has been the Surrey Equality Partnership (SEP). The SEP is facilitated by Surrey County Council (SCC) and membership is open to all public sector bodies in Surrey. Waverley officers have actively participated in the workings of this group. Of particular significance to Waverley and its Race Equality Scheme was a decision by SCC to make funding available to the SEP to commission research into Race Equality resources in Surrey. Consultants were selected (Navarro Training and Consultancy) in September 2004 with a requirement to report findings by December 2004. The consultancy delivered to that timetable.

21. Waverley officers supported and took an active part in the production of the ‘Navarro’ report and were happy with the conclusions (copy of the report would be made available to Members on request). Progress has been frustrated because of resourcing issues at SCC who facilitate and lead on this initiative. Members of the SEP have been bringing pressure to bear on SCC to take up this report and consider the implementation of its recommendations. A response from SCC is awaited.

22. Again, with a view to supporting the progress of the Council’s Race Equality Scheme, the Head of Personnel and Central Services attended a Beacon Council event in October 2005 organised by Gravesham Borough Council, the only district Council to have achieved /beacon Status in connection with the statutory duty to promote race equality. A copy of the notes of that event that were prepared for the Leader of the Council and the Chief Executive and which have been distributed to the members of Waverley's Equality Advisory Group are attached as Annexe 2.

23. If there was one central issue that was learned from attending that event it was to use every opportunity, regardless of how apparently insignificant, to promote race equality.

Conclusions

Legislative Changes

24. A significant volume of legislation and amending legislation has come into affect (or is due to come into affect) in a short space of time (since the past two years). Although this legislation has largely made specific what are good general principles on delivering equality of opportunity, all these changes add up to a significant volume of work that Waverley is not resourced to carry out, except in a minimalist way.

25. Waverley has absorbed, to a reasonable extent, the application of the letter and the spirit of the law on equality matters – most particularly in employment matters, but also in service delivery. Now the duty to promote not just racial equality but, soon, gender and disability equality, in popular parlance, raises the bar for Waverley.

26. It has been challenging, because of the low minority ethnic representation in the Borough, to make progress on promoting racial equality. The new duties to promote apply to either all of the population (gender equality) or a significant proportion of the population (disability). As such, those who may sit in judgement on Waverley's performance in delivering the equality agenda will find underperformance unacceptable.

27. Officers involved in the delivery of equality of opportunity (arguably all staff, but this is to identify those who are taking a lead) will need to give the subject more attention and will need to find ways of working smarter to delivery the Council’s equality agenda. Regardless, the response to these new duties needs to be proportionate and within the current budget provision (this comment relates to staffing except in so far as there is a [capital] budget for making adaptations to buildings to meet accessibility requirements under the Disability Discrimination Act, there is no budget for equality matters.)

Review of the Race Equality Scheme

28. Consultation with the Black and Minority Ethnic community is a barrier to progressing this Scheme. Working in partnership with other public bodies in Surrey is the most likely way to achieve a productive outcome on consultation. This should be developed through the Surrey Equality Partnership.

29. The Council’s Equality Advisory (Officer) Group should actively review the Council’s Race Equality Scheme and re-work the Action Plan into a new timetable for formal adoption by the Council by no later than the Council meeting in April 2006.

30. Every opportunity, within existing activity, should be identified and taken to promote Race Equality in Waverley. This must include identifying the race equality implications (and other equality issues) and specifying the proposed actions to be taken to avoid potential unfair discrimination. Revised guidelines for report writing have been prepared but need to be disseminated to officers who draft reports.



Recommendation

It is recommended that the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee considers the content of this report and, with particular attention to the conclusions set out above, advises the Executive on its views on the Council’s approaches to equality of opportunity in general and the Council’s Race Equality Scheme in particular.
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Background Papers (CEx )

There are no background papers (as defined by Section 100D(5) of the Local Government Act 1972) relating to this report.

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CONTACT OFFICER:

Name: Richard Wood Telephone: 01483 523387
E-mail: rwood@waverley.gov.uk



comms/o&s1/2005-06/046