The Chairman of the Equalities Task Group, Councillor P. McDonald, attended Cabinet to present the group’s final report. Members were advised that the aims of the investigation were to ensure that employees at both the Council and staff employed by contractors received fair treatment. Councillor McDonald commented that the group had held numerous meetings and had interviewed both Council Officers and Trades Union representatives. The recommendations that had been proposed by the group had been agreed unanimously by the Members serving on the investigation.
The Portfolio Holder for Finance and Enabling outlined a response on behalf of Cabinet, by addressing each recommendation in turn.
In respect of the first recommendation, which proposed that an annual Equalities Report be prepared for 2021 and annually thereafter, Members were advised that an annual equalities report would support the Council to demonstrate compliance with the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED), as set out in the Equality Act 2010. The PSED was made up of a general equality duty, which was supported by further duties; to publish equality information at least once a year, to show how the Council had complied with the equality duty and to prepare and publish equality objectives at least every four years. In this context, Cabinet supported the group’s first recommendation.
The group’s second recommendation proposed that IOS certification, or equivalent, be included in the Contractors’ Questionnaire in respect of equalities. Members were advised that ISO certification was available for a multiplicity of different things, but the Council’s Legal department had been unable to identify a specific ISO relating to equalities. This had been discussed with Councillor McDonald, as Chairman of the Task Group, and he had suggested that if there was no specific ISO for this purpose then contractors should be required to hold an ISO relevant to their industry. However, the Council’s Legal Department had concluded that the Council was not qualified to assess, for each contract, the relevant ISO that should apply. Furthermore, it had been identified that the ISO certification process could be a lengthy and financially costly process and not something that companies in all sectors would expect to undergo as a matter of course. There was a risk that a requirement for ISO certification could exclude smaller operators from Council procurement and for some contracts, there was a risk that no operators would be able to submit a bid in the procurement process. In recent months, the Council had procured community transport, Christmas lights and mobility scooter services in smallscale contracts and the majority of the successful bidders had been small, local businesses. It was considered unlikely that any of these businesses would have secured ISO certification. For these reasons, Cabinet would not be approving this recommendation.
The response to this recommendation was briefly debated and as part of that process it was noted that the average cost of ISO certification was £7,000. Concerns were raised that this would be expensive for smaller companies as well as businesses that were struggling due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, concerns were raised that without ISO certification there would be no way for the Council to ascertain whether contractors were supportive of equal opportunities. As a compromise, Councillor C. Hotham suggested that the Council’s Contractors’ Questionnaire should be updated to be as robust as possible in respect of equalities issues, without making reference to IOS certification. Cabinet confirmed that this proposal would be acceptable.
In respect of the group’s third proposal, which called for data collected from the new finance ERP system in respect of HR issues to be shared with the Overview and Scrutiny Board, Members were advised that the responsibility for staffing and HR issues was operational and rested with senior officers and the HR department. Data from the ERP system would be made available to managers to enable them to manage their services and this data would also be made available to the Corporate Management Team (CMT) on a regular basis. Therefore, whilst data could potentially be provided to the Board in the long-term, this would need to have been considered by senior officers first and under these circumstances, the recommendation could not be approved.
The group’s fourth recommendation had proposed clear guidance in respect of the secondment process for staff, including an appeals mechanism, as well as a formal progression policy. Members were advised that clear written guidance on the secondment process would be useful. However, it was a manager’s responsibility to determine whether Officers could be released on secondment. Whilst managers would always try to be supportive of their employee’s personal development, there were sometimes circumstances which meant that it was not possible to support a request to enter a secondment. An appeals process would not remove those constraints but might reduce a manager’s ability to plan the resources for the delivery of their service. Furthermore, staff could already raise concerns through the Council’s grievance process. Members were asked to note that the Council could not guarantee career progression to staff and a progression policy could raise staff expectations that could not necessarily be met. As an alternative, Cabinet was prepared to amend the proposal to agree “that guidance on the benefits of staff development and progression be put in place and made accessible to all staff”.
The group’s fifth recommendation proposed that there should be a specific section in respect of equalities included in the Council’s Community Survey and that Overview and Scrutiny / Equalities Task Group members should be involved in the preparation of questions to be included on this subject in the survey. Cabinet was informed that there was already a section in the Community Survey which was dedicated to addressing equalities issues. Responsibility for the Community Survey and questions with respect to equalities matters rested with Officers, particularly those Officers who had been specifically employed to address equalities issues and had experience in this field. For these reasons, Cabinet would not be approving this recommendation.
(a) The Equalities Task Group’s final report be noted;
(b) An annual Equalities Report be prepared for 2021 and annually thereafter (Recommendation 1);
(c) The Contractors’ Questionnaire should be updated to be as robust as possible in respect of equalities issues;
(d) Clear guidelines are put in place in respect of the secondment process and made available to all staff; and
(e) Guidance on the benefits of staff development and progression be put in place and made accessible to all staff.