Publication - Minutes

Equality Budget Advisory Group minutes: December 2019

Published: 28 May 2020

Minutes of the Equality Budget Advisory Group (EBAG) meeting held on 2 December 2019.

Published:
28 May 2020
Equality Budget Advisory Group minutes: December 2019

Attendees and apologies

Attendees

  • Angela O’Hagan, WiSE, Glasgow Caledonian University (Chair)
  • Hugh Buchanan, Scottish Government Public Spending Division
  • Joanne Briggs, Scottish Government Office of the Chief Economic Advisor
  • Tim Ellis, Scottish Government Performance and Outcomes Division
  • Liz Hawkins, Scottish Government Communities Analysis
  • Ali Hosie, Scottish Human Rights Commission
  • Mirren Kelly, COSLA
  • Jenny Kemp, Scottish Government Equality Unit
  • Tom Lamplugh, Scottish Government Office of the Chief Social Policy Advisor
  • Jim McCormick, Joseph Rowntree Foundation
  • Anne Meikle, Scottish Women’s Budget Group
  • Richard Robinson, Audit Scotland
  • Sean Stronach, Scottish Government Equality Unit
  • John Wilkes, Equality and Human Rights Commission
  • Graeme Wilson, Scottish Government Office of the Chief Social Policy Advisor
  • Gillian Achurch, Scottish Government Communities Analysis (Secretariat)

For NPF item

  • Kathryn Fergusson, Scottish Government National Performance Unit
  • John Clements, Scottish Government National Performance Unit

Apologies

  • James Fowlie, COSLA
  • Uzma Khan, Scottish Government Office of the Chief Economic Advisor

Items and actions

1.    Introduction from Chair and minutes

Angela welcomed everyone to the meeting and made introductions. The minutes of the last meeting were agreed.

2.   NPF team update

Kathryn Fergusson did a short presentation explaining the development of the National Performance Framework, the wellbeing report published in June 2019, the Programme for Government (PfG) published in September 2019 and the forthcoming report on Sustainable Development Goals (which has developed collaboratively with stakeholders).

Jim asked whether there were any signs that wellbeing work was beginning to influence the framing of PfG. Kathryn responded that the PfG was initially commissioned internally with four key themes (wellbeing, child poverty, climate change and inclusive economic growth). This did bring a concerted focus onto these issues and influenced the PfG – especially around climate change. There is still more to do but there does appear to be increasing alignment.

Angela asked whether scrutiny bodies had responded to the Wellbeing Report. 

Kathryn responded that there is an ongoing piece of work looking at impact and that it would be good to see more scrutiny of the outcome of policies in Parliament. SPICe have noted that it is harder to provide advice now that the NPF no longer has targets. There is always a dilemma, with some committees preferring to have reports by portfolio while others think it is important to look at the bigger picture and not just what their own committee is doing. The Wellbeing report had 15 times more hits in the first month than the previous NPF scorecard report.

Tim responded that it was important to focus on how the NPF data is used, rather than what is produced. He asked for EBAG’s views and support on how to facilitate that during what will be a challenging period.

Angela noted that EBAG were interested in the alignment between different tools and publications and asked specifically how the PfG tools for equality assessment were received. Kathryn responded that a wash-up process was ongoing to learn lessons from the PfG.  It was a mixed picture in terms of the quality of information they received and there will be an ongoing need to work with colleagues, but she noted that the approach will remain as part of the PfG process and she would be happy to discuss tools with EBAG.

Tom agreed with the need to do follow-up and noted that his team have been following up on the PfG approach asking people if they need support with Fairer Scotland Duty Assessments.

Richard asked about the impact of uncertainty from Brexit on spending priorities versus non-priorities and how it may impact on outcomes measured over time.

Tim responded that in reality there have always been large amounts of uncertainty and it is not an easy thing to measure. Ultimately legal commitments will be honoured first. Kathryn noted that attempts to coalesce around big priority areas is perhaps one way to try to manage this uncertainty and to tell a more cohesive story.  Mirren added that the challenge of uncertainty has a greater impact on the ability to change what you’re doing and reduces the ability to make radical changes.

3.    Overview of Fairer Scotland Duty Assessments

Graeme Wilson did a short presentation introducing the background to the Fairer Scotland Duty (FSD) and discussed some of the pilot work they had been doing with policy teams to help people engage. The team had spoken to 38 different teams undertaking assessment and had worked more directly with four case studies: expansion of Early Learning and Childcare; Culture strategy; second climate change adaptation programme; and the Scottish National Investment Bank.

Graeme noted that drawing on multiple sources of evidence and engagement with disadvantaged groups were positive approaches.

He noted that there were a range of issues, including helping teams to understand when a decision is strategic, and at what stage. He felt there was more scope to feed in at an early stage in the process but it can be harder to judge the likely impacts if there is a lack of policy detail. He noted that there are already multiple impact assessments undertaken by teams which can be burdensome. There was also a need to build transparency of some assessments to ensure that they can be understood and appropriately sourced for an external audience.

Both Welsh Government and Social Mobility Commission have shown interest in the Duty.

John asked how people were making connections between FSD and the Public Sector Equality Duty. Graeme responded that in framing exercises people were concerned about combined effects, especially around race and disability. They also expressed concern that they didn’t have the evidence they would like and that there was a need for more qualitative work for small groups with multiple characteristics including the crossover between poverty and protected characteristics.

Jim noted that there was interest in the FSD in the North of England with some opposition manifestos looking to include it in Westminster legislation. He encouraged SG to keep working on this and especially appraising and evaluating how big investments can lead to change.

John asked whether there was any work planned for next year, which will be the last of the 3 years for the draft guidance issued for public bodies. EHRC are interested as they may be a potential regulator for this. Tom responded that he was less connected with work outside government. Graeme has just completed a report reflecting on the first year of the duty in SG including areas of the guidance that might need revision. They had also been thinking about data development, especially different ways in which socio-economic disadvantage can be framed. Tom said he would welcome a conversation with EHRC on these matters.

Angela asked whether assessments link through to spend. Graeme noted that assessments haven’t usually flagged up specific allocations required to fund certain impacts, but have looked to identify where policies can be redirected or better tailored.

4.    Informal guidance, ‘6 key questions to ask when making budget decisions’

Angela was keen to think about what should be done next with the informal equality budgeting guidance published in summer 2019. She asked whether Directors had used the guidance, and whether we could generate some good practice case studies. She thought it would also be useful to consider messages from Directors and whether these are consistent.

Tim responded that these things generally take much longer to land than we think they do, and that while doing an assessment quickly might be useful to raise awareness, it might not tell us much about how they are used.

Mirren added that cascading down is also important. Her personal experience was that senior people are live to the need to consider equalities impacts, but that might not be the same when you get to the people who are actually developing policy.

Richard suggested that it might be useful to find out how easy it is for people to use the guidance and whether they found it helpful working through the six stages. Ali added that this should further ask what support do people need to take that forward.

Angela asked whether other internal members were aware of the guidance and how it had been shared. Liz noted that the Director of Housing and Social Justice sent it to all SG Directors and the Minister sent it to all subject committees at Parliament. Liz did not know to what extent it was cascaded within directorates. Sean added that it was important to circulate in lots of different fora and communicate in different ways to keep a consistency of message.

5.    EBAG Terms of Reference

Angela asked for thoughts on whether the EBAG Terms of Reference should be revised. John felt that it needed to be revised to focus not only equalities but socio-economic disadvantage and human rights as well as reflecting the different context for equalities analysis and the tools that now exist.

Angela questioned processes; where does what happens and is discussed at EBAG go within the organisation. Does EBAG have clout, and should this be reflected in the Terms of Reference?

Liz noted that the Group contains both internal and external members so it is hard to give strong recommendations. Current phrasing suggests that EBAG is the external members, working with the SG members. This needs to be clarified.

Tim agreed that it is currently an uneasy alliance. If going to committee or giving advice to Ministers, there is a tension for SG members on providing advice. He noted that it was a difficult decision because it would be a shame to lose the mix of internal and external. He also added that now is not really the right time to adjust. We may be better to tighten current remit and use the time to prepare ourselves for the next parliamentary phase.

Richard noted that the remit needed to be clearer on ‘what we do’ rather than ‘why we do it’. Is EBAG more about thinking about processes to help people consider equalities well, or helping people to understand linkages, or about challenging SG, or about value for money?

Angela agreed that we have gone back and forth on challenge function over the years. It was agreed to include some preamble on context, purpose and to tighten the wording of the remit but to use the next period to shape future thinking.

[Note: Further discussion on the Terms of Reference took place over email immediately following the meeting]

6.    EBAG plan for 2020

Hugh offered a quick update on budget timetables. He noted that the most optimistic date that a UK budget could be brought forward would be mid-to-late January. He clarified that there are three phases of the Scottish budget, taking just over three months. There are some deadlines that cannot be moved and three pressing issues: rollover provisions allow us to spend what we spent in the same month last year and in the same way, which will be impossible given changes over the past 12 months in social security; Scottish income tax rate resolution is required to allow HMRC to collect income tax; and local authorities have to set council tax by 11 March.

Angela summarised the EBAG work plan for 2020.

7.    AOB and closing remarks

Angela noted that she and Jim were meeting Jenny Kemp and Jess Dolan from the Scottish Government Equality Unit in January to discuss mainstreaming.

Angela also noted that EBAG were overdue a meeting with the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work and asked for this to be progressed.

Actions:

Gillian to progress a meeting between EBAG and the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work