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Equality Budget Advisory Group minutes: December 2020

Published: 3 Mar 2021
Date of meeting: 3 Dec 2020

Minutes of the Equality Budget Advisory Group meeting held on 3 December 2020.

Published:
3 Mar 2021
Equality Budget Advisory Group minutes: December 2020

Attendees and apologies

Attendees   

  • Angela O'Hagan (Chair)
  • Emma Congreve, Fraser of Allander Institute
  • Tim Ellis, Scottish Government Performance and Outcomes
  • Liz Hawkins, Scottish Government Communities Analysis
  • Alison Hosie, Scottish Human Rights Commission
  • Matthew Izatt-Lowry, Scottish Government Economic Policy
  • Mirren Kelly, COSLA
  • Jenny Kemp, Scottish Government Equality Unit
  • Tom Lamplugh, Scottish Government Office of the Chief Social Policy Adviser
  • Angelika Majdanik, Scottish Government Performance and Outcomes
  • Lisa McDonald, Scottish Government Economic Policy and Capability
  • Richard Robinson, Audit Scotland
  • Kenny Stewart, Equality and Human Rights Commission
  • Ben Walsh, Scottish Government Scottish Budget Unit
  • Gillian Achurch, Scottish Government Communities Analysis (Secretariat)

Apologies   

  • James Fowlie, COSLA
  • Jim McCormick, Joseph Rowntree Foundation
  • Anne Meikle, Scottish Women's Budget Group
  • Fiona Page, Scottish Government Scottish Budget Unit
  • Douglas McLaren, Scottish Government Public Spending
  • Sean Stronach, Scottish Government Equality Unit

Items and actions

Welcome and introductions

Angela welcomed Lisa McDonald to the Group, as the new representative from the Scottish Government Economic Policy and Capability unit.

Update on the budget process and the EFSBS

Ben noted that the budget will be published on 28 January 2021 and outlined the key implications of the UK Spending Review. The budget team are working with the Equality and Social Justice Analysis team and the Office and the Chief Social Policy Advisor on the Equality and Fairer Scotland Budget Statement (EFSBS).

Liz added that the EFSBS commission has now gone out. Key inequalities of outcome have been pre-filled in the templates, with the option for portfolios to adjust these according to their priorities. Portfolios’ introductions have also been streamlined into templates and key human rights have been added. This is a new step and limited analysis of human rights is expected this year. Portfolios’ templates will be published as an annex to the EFSBS. The aim is to keep the executive overview short and to also look at producing an easy read or infographic summary. Ali agreed that detailed human rights analysis is unlikely this year, but offered to review it to feed into next year’s guidance. Angela agreed that would be useful.

Kenny asked how the impact of the development of the EFSBS on budget decisions will be monitored. Liz noted that this is always an issue with the EFSBS. The intention of commissioning the EFSBS early is to ensure that people are aware of it when they begin making decisions. Liz also noted the importance of evaluation here. Angela added that the political aspect to this is why EBAG focuses on process.

Ben highlighted that equalities discussions have been better this year, with the slightly more directive approach getting better engagement from officials. Lisa agreed that the more consistent approach, template and example are helpful. She also suggested that one-on-one conversations can provide a valuable safe space to discuss this work. Lisa also noted that her team have developed a dashboard for the AGER report which they can share if of use.

Emma noted that good progress has been made and asked for Ben’s perspective on the Budget team’s role in ensuring that equality analysis happens. Ben noted their team is fairly small but has close contact with the Equalities Analysis, Fairer Scotland and Performance & Outcomes teams. The Budget team’s main role is facilitating the budget process. They have tried to embed consideration of equalities wherever possible. He added that the EFSBS can sometimes feel slightly separate but they are working towards a streamlined budget document with COVID and the EFSBS being linked in the narrative. 

Liz agreed that the process is much more joined up this year. She noted that the key difficulty remains that the analysis is reliant on the knowledge and competence within portfolios. Each area tends to be good at particular aspects – for example health are very good at considering deprivation – but broader competence especially in intersectional analysis is lacking. Jenny added that improving competence in this area will be a key part of the new mainstreaming strategy. She noted that the newly appointed Equality, Inclusion & Human Rights director (Madhu Malhotra) will have a place on Executive Team to advocate for equality and human rights, which is a substantial shift. 

Richard noted that the new Auditor General is prioritising equality and keen to highlight potentially disproportionate effects of difficult budget decisions on certain groups. He asked whether in-year budgeting adjustments will be considered throughout the year, and whether there is a risk that resources are skewed by greater competence around some groups and inequalities than others? Mirren supported this first point, noting that in-year funding can feel disjointed and often comes with strings attached. She also added that it is often expected to be used in-year which doesn’t always deliver the best outcomes. Emma also noted that Fraser of Allander are frustrated with the lack of transparency about in-year allocations. Ben will check on in-year reporting and come back. Angela agreed that this needs to be drawn out in the recommendations. Kenny reminded the Group that in-year decisions are subject to the Public Sector Equality Duty. 

Angela asked what ‘citizens’ impact’ means within SG, and Ben said that this is about understanding impact on NPF, equalities and Fairer Scotland outcomes. Tom noted that a forthcoming report will bring together evidence of COVID on NPF national outcomes, including quite a lot of analysis of equality impacts. Broadly, this states that COVID-19 is expected to widen many existing inequalities.

Actions:

  • Ali to review the human rights analysis in this year’s EFSBS and feed back.
  • Ben to feed back to the Group re equalities analysis of in-year reporting on budget adjustments.
  • Tom to circulate the NPF report on the impact of COVID on outcomes.

Draft equality budgeting recommendations

Angela asked the Group for suggestions on finding an alignment between a clear equalities narrative in the main budget documentation and a site for more detailed analysis. She asked whether post-hoc equalities analysis should be commissioned.

Emma suggested that it would be very difficult to see what equalities analysis has happened without the EFSBS, and that for external organisations producing commentary to tight timescales, the EFSBS is very helpful. She added that it would be fine for this assessment to be contained within the main budget document but that having the EFSBS ensures this narrative is published. Emma proposed that until this is fully integrated it is not the right time to move away from the EFSBS.

Angela noted that if the EFSBS is retained, then work would need to be put into ensuring it is well used and not seen as an unnecessary burden without impact. Tim suggested that it is important to see the EFSBS in context and recognise that the big ‘set-piece’ events are not the be all and end all – there is a need to improve alignment across the year. He noted that he is aware of how much more there is to be done here but that EBAG needs to be realistic about capacity and timescales for the recommendations. Angela agreed that multiple and moving parts need to be aligned, and that equalities must be central to all of these. 

Tom highlighted the importance of building a culture of evaluation and suggested that more emphasis could be put on how Scottish Government will evaluate budgeting commitments, building in an annual cycle. He suggested that reporting on this could be part of the EFSBS. Jenny also added that it is important to build lived experience into evaluation, to highlight how budget cuts or spend impact on real individuals. Mirren noted that evaluation reporting should be timed to ensure that it influences decision making. Angela agreed on the importance of evaluation.

Actions:

  • Angela, Gillian and Liz to work up a revised set of recommendations ahead of the next meeting.
  • Group to look at this year’s budget process in February and draw out lessons.

Human Rights budgeting – considering Programme for Government commitments through a human rights lens

Ali conducted a piece of work assessing recent Programme for Government (PfG) commitments to identify where human rights could be integrated. She also focused on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and added some examples of where more info can be found. She acknowledged that the human rights system can be hard to understand and noted that the UN High Commissioners’ index tracker is a useful tool. She also noted that SHRC are considering developing a Scottish tracker which could encompass how human rights connect to the NPF and SDGs. The Group thanked Ali for her work on this.

Jenny noted that integrating human rights analysis into mainstreaming is quite a challenge but that the importance of this is now recognised more than ever before, and that hopefully future resourcing will reflect this. Mirren and Liz noted the importance at this stage of demonstrating opportunity to tweak or tailor policies to maximise positive impact on equalities and human rights, and Mirren also noted the important of building capacity in balancing rights and/or equality issues.

 EBAG agenda for 2021

Angela thanked colleagues in SG for their work this year, especially in terms of link up between different areas of work. She suggested that EBAG meet in late February, to allow time to get some feedback from those working on this year’s EFSBS, and to look back at the budget and finalise EBAG’s recommendations. A second meeting will be held in April or May by which point hopefully some members will have met with the Cabinet Secretary for Finance.