Equalities Policy and Action Plan - Update
Decision Maker: Executive
Decision status: Recommendations Approved
Is Key decision?: No
Is subject to call in?: Yes
This report provides an update on the current Equalities objectives and action plan.
A refreshed action plan has been developed in consultation with key service areas. The action plan was last revised in 2020 in response to the pandemic and the challenges faced in tackling disadvantage in Maidstone. It is important that it
continues to reflect the current challenges faced by residents and staff so the Council can deliver on its Equalities objectives.
A light touch revision has been made to the current Equalities Policy. This is outlined at paragraph 2.17-2.21 in the report and is proposed to ensure recent legislative changes are referenced in the Policy document.
1. That the progress on the Equalities Objectives and Action Plan update at Appendix 1 to the report be noted;
2. That the changes to the Equalities Policy at Appendix 2 of the report be agreed;
3. That the revised actions for the Equalities Action Plan at Appendix 3 of the report be agreed; and
4. That the inclusion of Poverty as an additional protected characteristic be agreed.
Reasons for the decision:
1.1 The Council’s Equalities Policy outlines its responsibilities under the Equalities Act 2010 and as part of its Public Sector Equality Duty under the Act, the Council must report annually on progress made. The Council has a duty to:
· Eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other prohibited conduct.
· Advance equality of opportunity.
· Foster good relations between people
1.2 The Policy sets out the Council’s three agreed objectives:
• Community Leader – To lead by example, to ensure every individual resident is connected and supported
• Employer – To lead a diverse and inclusive workforce that is reflective of the borough of Maidstone where residents and colleagues feel safe, confident and empowered to challenge and bring about change
• Service Provider– To deliver inclusive services in accordance with the Council’s values.
1.3 An action plan is in place to deliver these objectives. This action plan is reviewed and refreshed on an annual basis to ensure that Council’s services are accessible and continue to meet the needs of its residents.
1.4 Equalities is engrained within the organisation from its organisational values through to its staff appraisal process. At a strategic level, the direction is set by the Strategic Plan and the Council’s priorities.
1.5 The action plan is informed by service led insight. It is reflective of current workstreams. The action plan is monitored on a quarterly basis by the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Officer group.
1.6 To fulfil its Public Sector Equality duty and demonstrate due regard in the carrying out of its functions, the Council has an Equalities Impact Assessment process in place. At the start of a project, officers evaluate the impact a decision ‘could have’ on the 9 Protected Characteristics. If there was a negative impact on one or more of the 9 groups or characteristics protected under the act, mitigations would be put in place.
Progress update on Objectives and Action Plan
1.7 Progress on the current actions is included at Appendix 1. The existing Action Plan was agreed during the pandemic and reflected the action that was required in response to this, recognising the disproportionate impact on vulnerable groups in the community. No significant changes were made last year as it was felt more progress could be made against the existing actions.
1.8 Many of the actions have been completed have become established workstreams such as the Rough Sleepers Initiative which has funding until March 2023. It is hoped that this service will receive mainstream funding from April 2023 from the Clinical Commissioning Group, to continue the work across West Kent.
1.9 An audit of historical assets within the borough of Maidstone was undertaken. Museum collections were appraised, and work was undertaken with donors to understand the links to the past. It was found that there were no connections with slave owning families. It was also identified that the Museum’s world collection did not include ‘lived experience’. A community panel is being put together to undertaken work to support this need.
1.10 Public Engagement was limited during the pandemic, and it was identified that new innovations were needed to reach the wider community. The Resident Survey 2022 was launched on the Council’s new engagement platform ‘Lets Talk Maidstone’ in July 2022. A total of 5027 people responded to the questionnaire and the results from the Survey have already been used to inform a number of workstreams, from initiatives to support communities affected by the cost-of-living crisis to the Town Centre Strategy. Since its launch ‘Let’s Talk Maidstone’ has been used to deliver the following Consultation and Engagement activities:
· Operation Brock
· Mote Park Arts
· Scarecrow Festival
· Marden Task Force
· Waste and Recycling
· Community Governance Review
· Budget Survey
· Community Wi-Fi
· Innovation centre Research & development event
· Let’s Talk Design & Sustainability
· Maidstone Air Quality 2022
1.11 The Council’s ability to support the community since the pandemic has grown in strength. The directory of Voluntary and Community (VCS) Groups is a valued resource utilised across the Council. It ensures a more consistent and coordinated approach to communicating, information, advice and support. A regular news email is sent to all organisations on the directory, so we are able to get immediate information out as broadly as possible. This has been incredibly helpful on projects such as the Help for Ukraine scheme and as part of ongoing work with the cost-of-living crisis. Places of Worship and Faith groups have now been mapped and included in the directory which increases access to services and support.
1.12 Twenty organisations were funded from thefirst phase of the Community Resilience Fund amounting to £58,429.00. The funding has supported a wide variety of activities from a diverse group of organisations. Organisations have been able to continue to provide or increase their ability to meet demand by providing activities and support ranging from counselling sessions and mental health support to outdoor activities to support wellbeing.
1.13 The second phase of the Community Resilience Fund has been launched and applications are due to close on 16 December 2022 to enable funds to be distributed as quickly as possible so that support can be provided during the most challenging winter months. The remit of the fund has been broadened to include projects supporting residents with food and bills.
1.14 In partnership with Funding for All, the Council hosted a ‘Volunteering & Funding Advice Event’ on 30 November at Trinity House. The event was for Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprises (VCSEs) supporting people in the borough of Maidstone. Funding support and advice was offered to attendees as well as the chance to explore opportunities for volunteer engagement. Delegates were provided with be opportunity to meet funders and have 1:1s with funding advisors. There was also a marketplace where groups could connect with and seek support from a range of VCSEs and support organisations. A final plenary session helped identify the types of support needed going forward. This feedback is being collated to shape and determine the type of support we offer going forward.
Actions where progress was limited
1.15 The Compassionate Borough Status Project was not taken forward due to competing priorities for the Heart of Kent Hospice. However, the Compassionate Maidstone Award are now well established, and ran for the 3rd time in November 2022.
1.16 An assessment to evaluate the Council as an Inclusive Employer was not undertaken. This will instead be a focus of the HR Culture Change Project.
The Equalities Policy (2017-2021)
1.17 The Council has legislative duties under the Equality Act 2010 to:
· Eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other prohibited conduct
· Advance equality of opportunity
· Foster good relations between people.
Our Policy document sets out these responsibilities to the public. It is important that this document is up to date and accessible if it is to be fit for purpose.
1.18 The policy was last updated in 2017. Since that date, there have been no legislative changes to warrant an update until very recently. The Council’s Equalities objectives are set out in the document and also delivered as part of a stand-alone action plan which has been refreshed annually. It is recommended that the Policy be renamed and brought in line with the current, recognised terminology used and called the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Policy. In 2018 the Council took the decision to include the Armed Forces in its Equalities Action plan as a means of ensuring that this community in Maidstone was recognised. The enshrinement of the Covenant into law is an opportunity to build upon work councils are already leading to help serving personnel, reservists, veterans, and their families to have the same equality of access to public services as their civilian neighbours.
1.19 Community Covenants are a voluntary statement of mutual support between a civilian community and its local Armed Forces Community. Maidstone Borough Council signed the Armed Forces Covenant in October 2012.
1.20 In 2018 the Council took the decision to include its work with the Armed Forces Community in its Equalities Action plan. The enshrinement of the Covenant into law is an opportunity to build upon work councils are already leading to help serving personnel, reservists, veterans, and their families to have the same equality of access to public services as their civilian neighbours.
1.21 The Armed Forces Covenant has recently become law (Armed Forces Act 2021). The Armed Forces Covenant’s enshrinement into law is an opportunity to build upon work councils are already leading to help serving personnel, reservists, veterans, and their families to have the same equality of access to public services as their civilian neighbours. Therefore, the policy has been updated to reference the Armed Forces Act 2021 and the Council’s responsibilities in terms of demonstrating ‘due regard’.
Development of revised Action Plan
1.22 The action plan for 2022/23 has been developed with the Equality Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Officer group. The group was established as part of the existing action plan (2020/21) to monitor the progress of the action plan. Services represented include HR Learning and Development, Housing, Museums, Communication and Engagement, Democratic Services and Elections, Mayoralty, Revenues and Benefits (Welfare team) and Policy, Communities and Engagement.
1.23 This officer group have been able to share their extensive learning and experience in terms of service needs and provide valuable insight to identify where barriers or gaps are negatively impacting particular groups.
1.24 They are also in a position to evaluate their own needs as employees of a public sector organisation and identify the support that is required for the workforce.
1.25 Staff identified a number of gaps including:
· Existing, new and emerging communities present a challenge for staff in terms of engaging with and being able to understand needs
· Digital Exclusion – support needed to access services online
· Making the most of ‘neutral spaces’ i.e. places where the Council has a presence such as the Museum, Trinity House or when a one service is delivering outreach support, that it looks to include a wider range of service to better support residents and increase access to services. For example, the recent cost of living events, Ukraine Welcome event and Community Protection surgeries.
1.26 In terms of staff training and support the following issues were identified:
· Organisational diversity is not fully representative of community
· Leadership and elected members are not representative of the community.
· There are no forums at staff level to discuss EDI
· There is a need to feel more comfortable about diversity in the workplace
· There is a lack of awareness of cultural barriers affecting access to services
· There is a lack of understanding of disability, hidden disabilities (neurodivergent), mental health, physical, complex social and learning difficulties
· There is a lack of understanding about barriers to employee accessibility to services and internal processes
· There are no quiet areas in office, which means the environment is not for suitable neurodivergent.
1.27 There is a great deal to build on in terms of what is happening across the organisation such as the Staff Engagement Group, new consultation and engagement tools, the Culture Change project, One View project, the development and strengthening of relationships within the VCS and Digital and Financial Inclusion workstreams.
1.28 However, there is also an opportunity to be more detailed and specific in the actions we take going forward. This can be achieved through the increased use of data (Census data sets from November onwards), through staff (and member) training in cultural competencies and the ongoing culture change project.
1.29 The draft action plan can be found at appendix 3. Some of the key recommendations are summarised below:
o To respond to concerns from the EDI staff group for a need to feel more comfortable about diversity in the workplace, it is therefore proposed that we create equalities champions. They would be an informal point of contact, to listenand to identify possible next steps or further help.
o The EDI staff group also considered employee accessibility to services and internal processes. It was that barriers existed and in terms of how this. It is also proposed that we start proactively asking specific questions of staff, through staff consultation and engagement to broaden our organisational understanding of the diversity that exists in our workforce and what issues and ideas exist that can contribute positively to our way forward.
o There is a need to be specific when discussing the communities the Council support. It was felt that this could only be achieved when staff were provided with training and felt empowered to use appropriate language. It was identified that data and insight was vital in understand who our communities were. The adoption of the LGA Inclusive Language guide has been put forward as a recommended action, underpinned by the need for detailed and informed evidence bases for decision making. Therefore, only accepting the use of specific language when referring to diverse communities in reports for decision. Other complementary actions detailed include:
§ Cultural competency training
§ Work on census data to identify emerging needs
Recommended Inclusion of additional protected characteristic
1.30 The Equality Act 2010 states that it is illegal to discriminate against someone for any of the following reasons:
3. Gender reassignment
4. Marriage and civil partnership
5. Pregnancy and maternity
7. Religion or belief
9. Sexual orientation
1.31 A number of Councils across the Country have taken the decision to include ‘socio-economical’ factors as an additional protected characteristic. These include Haringey, Manchester as well as Welsh Councils.
1.32 The cost-of-living crisis is expected to have a significant impact on some groups of people in Maidstone than others. This is likely to include people who share protected characteristics under the Equality Act, including women, disabled people, people from certain ethnic minority backgrounds, and both older and younger people. People with caring responsibilities are also likely to be disproportionately impacted as their income tends to be lower than the population as a whole.
1.33 We want to ensure that our decision making does not impact a group or individual who are already in a financially vulnerable financial situation, and we want this to be understood in simple, straightforward term. Therefore, it is recommended that we include Poverty (as opposed to socio-economic factors) as an additional ‘local characteristic’ to encourage officers and decision makers to consider the impact of changes to Policy or service delivery and to take mitigating action. It is important note that everyone in our community has a protected characteristic – age and gender for example, so in adding Poverty as an additional characteristic we are creating a universal consideration in terms of impact.
CONSULTATION RESULTS AND PREVIOUS COMMITTEE FEEDBACK
Alternative options considered:
2.1 To consider the Equalities Objectives and Action Plan update and the proposed revisions to the Policy and action plan, agreeing that the changes be made.
2.2 To consider the Equalities Objectives and Action Plan update and the proposed changes to the Equalities Policy and action plan, agreeing that no further changes be made to the Policy and action plan.
2.3 To consider theEqualities Objectives and Action Plan update and the proposed revisions to the Policy and action plan, and make additional amendments.
Contact: Orla Sweeney Email: email@example.com.
Report author: Orla Sweeney
Publication date: 25/01/2023
Date of decision: 25/01/2023
Decided: 25/01/2023 - Executive
Effective from: 03/02/2023