Publication - Minutes

Equality Budget Advisory Group minutes: February 2019

Published: 11 Jul 2019
Date of meeting: 19 Feb 2019

Minutes of the Equality Budget Advisory Group (EBAG) meeting held on 19 February 2019.

Published:
11 Jul 2019
Equality Budget Advisory Group minutes: February 2019

Attendees and apologies

Attendees

  • Angela O’Hagan, WiSE, Glasgow Caledonian University (Chair)
  • Emma Congreve, Joseph Rowntree Foundation
  • Liz Hawkins, Communities Analysis
  • Alison Hosie, Scottish Human Rights Commission
  • Mirren Kelly, COSLA
  • Anne Meikle, Scottish Women’s Budget Group
  • Richard Robinson, Audit Scotland
  • Gillian Achurch, Communities Analysis (Secretariat)

For deep dive session

  • Kathryn Fergusson, National Performance Unit
  • Zarah Pattison, National Performance Unit

Apologies

  • Tim Ellis, Performance and Outcomes
  • James Fowlie, COSLA
  • Mhoraig Green, COSLA
  • Uzma Khan, Office of the Chief Economic Advisor
  • Jim McCormick, Joseph Rowntree Foundation
  • Chris Oswald, Equality and Human Rights Commission
  • Fiona Page, Public Spending 
  • Sean Stronach, Equality

Items and actions

1. Membership  

Emma Congreve and Jim McCormick will jointly represent the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on EBAG going forwards, according to the topic and their availability. 

Angela will update the Minister about the changes to the membership of EBAG, now that Richard and Anne have both joined. 

Action:

  • Angela to update the Minister on EBAG membership

2. Minutes from previous meeting 

The minutes from the previous meeting (22 January 2019) were provisionally approved, with Richard to confirm his approval.

Action:

  • Richard to confirm that he is content with the minutes

3. Related work

Alison encouraged members to attend the SHRC’s Human Rights Budgeting Masterclass on 15 March. They will be presenting a range of findings and the 3 indicators previously discussed (with draft findings from these). Dissemination papers that SHRC have produced will also be presented. These offer more practical guidance on scrutiny and budgeting. They are seeking feedback on whether these are accessible to a policy audience, and welcome feedback from the Group. 

Angela highlighted a Cumulative Analysis seminar which is due to be held at Parliament on 12 March.

Angela also noted that she will be completing a piece of work for the Wales Centre for Public Policy on gender budgeting in Wales. They are looking to learn from experience in Scotland.

Actions:

  • Alison to send invites to the Masterclass to Gillian, for circulation
  • Alison to circulate the SHRC’s dissemination papers for feedback

4. March EBAG meeting: seminar on revenue and the budget process

Gillian confirmed that SG colleagues (Aidan Grisewood, Head of Tax Division and/or Steven Mackie Tax Strategy Team Leader) have agreed to speak at EBAG’s March meeting. The Scottish Fiscal Commission (SFC) were invited to speak but they feel that they are not best placed to do so, as they do not have a role in developing tax policy nor in assessing impacts of tax policy other than fiscal forecasting. Angela suggested that the SFC’s role in forecasting and its impact on budget would nevertheless be useful to hear more about so that we can be clear on what the links might be.  

The SFC suggested that we invite Revenue Scotland to speak, and there was agreement that this would be a good idea.

Joanne Walker (Low Incomes Tax Reform Group) and Alan Bermingham (Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy) have both confirmed that they will attend.

Angela stated that the purpose of the March meeting is to understand the process of revenue and tax collection, and where the intersections matter in terms of improving equalities analysis. It should explore the links between revenue and economic stimulus, and questions around tax collection and revenue raising (especially whether tax collection is being maximised). The seminar should be an occasion for learning and for exploring the opportunities around revenue collection and what kind of recommendations it might be possible to make.

Audit Scotland published a paper on the fiscal framework in October 2018, which includes discussion of forecasting. Richard would be happy to contribute something about this. 

David Eiser was invited to attend but has not yet confirmed. Gillian will re-extend the invitation and propose that he (or a colleague from the Fraser of Allander Institute) speak at the session.

Actions:

  • Gillian to invite Revenue Scotland to speak
  • Gillian to re-extend invitation to David Eiser/Fraser of Allander Institute, and ask whether they would also like to speak
  • Gillian to circulate Audit Scotland’s paper, 'Scotland’s New Financial Powers: Operation of the Fiscal Framework' 

5. National Performance Framework

Colleagues from the National Performance Framework (NPF) team joined the meeting for a ‘deep dive’ session. 

Kathryn offered an overview of the development of the NPF, and the broadening of focus to making it a tool for the whole of Scotland, and not just SG. She noted that there has been much interest in the values statement, which was added in the latest version (published June 2018). There are currently 81 indicators, and work is in progress to provide disaggregated equalities data for those where it is appropriate to do so. There are challenges around the sample sizes for some characteristics. Indicators are mainly quantitative at present, with a move towards more qualitative data where this is better suited.

Zarah gave an overview of the new NPF website, launched in December 2018. The specific equality breakdowns available on the Equality Evidence Finder for each indicator varies according to the sample, and the period covered varies depending on when the indicator was launched and the data source. 59 of the 81 indicators currently have some type of disaggregation, with 18 still in development (not all indicators are suited to equalities disaggregation, for example Sustainability of Fish Stocks). The lead analyst for each indicator is responsible for maintaining it, with the NPF team focusing on the overall picture across all outcomes. This is a work in progress. Director Generals have recently been supported to examine their relevant indicators in depth, and the Permanent Secretary has also been involved, all indicating interest at high levels within SG.

Angela noted that a key challenge lies in being able to bring different breakdowns together, such as disaggregation by gender and head of household.

Indicators can be disaggregated by Local Authority (LA), but the data is patchy. Liz noted that the intention has always been that other organisations could add data to the Equality Evidence Finder, such as LAs. Richard noted the challenge of quality assurance in this case.

The website has received 21,000 hits since its launch. Guidance has been developed to help policy areas to understand how to use the NPF, and the team are linking with Evaluation Support Scotland. Angela highlighted that this links to the Budget Process Review Group (BPRG)’s recommendation for committees to use a wider range of resources. Liz noted that Ms McKelvie wrote to Cabinet colleagues to  highlight the newly launched Equality Evidence Finder.

Mirren noted that local government are keen for the Scottish budget to be linked to the NPF. Kathryn noted that the spending review is a key opportunity to consider outcomes. Bringing the NPF to life is a challenge, and they are seeking case studies of how the NPF has promoted change. Liz asked whether local authorities have any good practice in linking budgets to their Local Outcome Improvement Plans (LOIPs). Audit Scotland/Improvement Service research found that two thirds of LOIPs linked to the NPF. 

Kathryn drew attention to the notable civil movement around the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and suggested that the NPF should examine how to tap into this interest to improve its impact. Awareness raising is a priority, within public sector, Parliament and beyond.

The Voluntary National Review (VNR) is a chance to take stock of Scotland’s progress on the SDGs. An NPF Outcomes Report will be produced in May 2019. Previously, Scotland Performs scorecards offered snapshots from the NPF website with some additional narrative; the aim of the Outcomes Report is to paint an overall picture. The ambition is for it to be an important policy driver. Emma suggested that an evaluation of impact of spend on outcomes be included in the Outcomes Report. 

Alison raised concerns around how the SDGs that are not included in the NPF will be monitored, given that the NPF is presented as Scotland’s mechanism for monitoring the SDGs. SHRC have particular concerns around goals 5, 10 and 16 (Gender Equality, Reduced Inequalities and Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions). Kathryn noted that the team are open to suggestions around performance reporting, but cautioned that there are important considerations around the number of NPF indicators. Liz noted that other strategies, such as Equally Safe, have their own measurement frameworks that monitor some of these areas. She suggested that the focus should be linking these to the NPF.

Kathryn noted that discussions are ongoing about finding a balance between open and transparent reporting, and presenting data in a meaningfully distilled form. 

Alison noted that the FM’s Advisory Group on Human Rights were explicit in their recommendations about links to the NPF. SHRC contest the Minister’s claim that the NPF takes a human rights based approach throughout. 

Angela noted that the BPRG’s report suggested outcomes budgeting (rather than budgeting by portfolios). Potential joint work with Children in Scotland will explore how we can look at children and children’s outcomes across the budget. This work is in its earlier stages. COSLA are keen to see this. Emma noted that looking backwards is equally important as looking forwards in budgeting, to ensure that spend has had the intended impact. This might need to be a 5-year process. 

Emma noted that it would be helpful for SG to be explicit about areas in which they would like to progress work but do not have the capacity to do so, so that external bodies have the chance to take up this work. Kathryn agreed that the team are keen to co-produce work, and are hoping to partner with those engaged in the VNR.

With regards to the SDG VNR, it is not yet clear how devolved governments will be represented in the UK report. Evidence is being sought from all areas by 27 February for the UK VNR. There is tension between the UK Government seeking a coherent UK report, and the fact that there is no UK-wide vision around the SDGs. Poverty, for example, is treated differently in Scotland, so stand-alone chapters for the devolved nations have been requested, but not yet granted. There are concerns that a collaborative shadow report would be less visible at the UN, but Alison noted that there is now much better international awareness about differences between Scotland and the UK as a whole. SHRC will probably also put in a shadow report.

Kathryn outlined some key developments and actions taken around BPRG recommendations and that work was being done by her team looking at examples of international best practice. 

The NPU team welcomed EBAG’s input on the Outcomes Report. Kathryn identified a need to promote data and evidence literacy within SG – this will be a focus for them in the coming year. Kathryn offered to ask for volunteers from a group of lead policy officers who are interested in outcome evaluation to come to EBAG meetings to help build up a picture in this respect. Angela agreed that this would be useful to promote conversations across SG about what EBAG is trying to encourage, and to make intersections clear.

Alison suggested that the NPF articulate the overarching goals of the outcomes. Kathryn noted that they do have descriptors to explain the relationship between indicators and outcomes, which have potential in bringing the indicators to life, but require some work around how best to use them.

Angela noted that the focus should be on asking 'what is the difference that this policy wants to make?’. Alison suggested that there should be minimum acceptable value for each indicator, with the focus then on progressive improvement, and considering what resources (not only financial) are required to achieve this. Richard notes that for auditors, who are concerned about value for money, the challenge is in considering the numerous different players contributing to an outcome in real terms.

The Scottish Leaders Forum is being revamped this year, around the NPF, which could be an opportunity to air some of these questions. Emma highlighted the need for safe spaces to challenge the status quo, have wider debates, and move forward constructively. She suggested that it is difficult for stakeholders to make challenges if they are met with stock responses or silence. We should also work towards the point where Parliament is routinely making these challenges.

The NPU team will return later in 2019, to reflect on developments over the course of the year. 

Actions:

  • Gillian to invite NPF colleagues back to an EBAG meeting later in the year
  • Kathryn to share her Powerpoint and the link to the VNR with EBAG
  • Kathryn to update EBAG on the response to requests for volunteers to join future meetings