Publication - Minutes

Equality Budget Advisory Group minutes: February 2021

Published: 7 Jul 2021
Date of meeting: 22 Feb 2021

Minutes of the Equality Budget Advisory Group (EBAG) meeting held on 22 February 2021.

Published:
7 Jul 2021
Equality Budget Advisory Group minutes: February 2021

Attendees and apologies

  • Angela O'Hagan (Chair)
  • Chris Birt, Joseph Rowntree Foundation
  • Emma Congreve, Fraser of Allander
  • Sara Cowan, Scottish Women’s Budget Group
  • Tim Ellis, Performance & Outcomes, Scottish Government (SG)
  • Louise Halpin, Human Rights Mainstreaming Lead, SG
  • Liz Hawkins, Equality & Social Justice Analysis, SG
  • Ali Hosie, Scottish Human Rights Commission
  • Matthew Izatt-Lowry, Economic Policy, SG
  • Mirren Kelly, COSLA
  • Tom Lamplugh, Office of the Chief Social Policy Adviser, SG
  • Richard Robinson, Audit Scotland
  • Kenny Stewart, EHRC
  • Sean Stronach, Equality & Human Rights Division, SG
  • Ben Walsh, Public Spending, SG
  • Gillian Achurch, Equality & Social Justice Analysis, SG (Secretariat)

For item 2: children's rights budgeting

  • Helen Fogarty, Children's Rights, SG

  • Nicola Hughes, Raising Awareness of Children's Rights, SG

  • Ceri Hunter, Children & Young People's Participation, SG
  • Chantelle Lalli, Creating Positive Futures team, SG

Apologies

  • James Fowlie, COSLA
  • Lisa McDonald, Economic Policy & Capability, SG
  • Dougie McLaren, Public Spending, SG
  • Fiona Page, Public Spending, SG

Items and actions

Item one: welcome from the chair

The chair introduced and welcomed new members, Sara Cowan (taking over from Anne Meikle as representative for SWBG) and Chris Birt (taking over from Jim McCormick as representative for JRF).

The minutes of the last meeting were approved without amendment.

Item two: children's rights budgeting

Helen thanked the Group for inviting children’s rights staff along and gave an overview of their work on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill, which has now passed stage 2. The Bill places a compatibility duty on those undertaking public functions so children, young people and their representatives can hold those undertaking public functions to account through the courts. The Bill will mean that Child Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessments (CRWIAs) will be obligatory for Scottish Ministers for all primary and secondary legislation (other than commencement orders) and all decisions of a strategic nature. Helen noted that the team are conscious of thinking about the intersectionality of human rights and equality more widely, and not only the rights of children.

Helen noted that the report from Carnegie and Children in Scotland was really helpful in explaining how a wellbeing approach to budgeting and a rights respecting budget could be mutually reinforcing.

The team are also reviewing CRWIAs and Ceri outlined that they are considering whether children’s rights are addressed early enough in policymaking and whether stage 3 of the CRWIA, which replicates stage 2, should be replaced and evaluation integrated into that stage. Training is also being reviewed and the team are putting processes in place for future instances where emergency legislation is required.

Emma asked whether the budget is seen as a strategic event in need of a CRWIA, and how that might be done, noting that the EFSBS currently looks at different portfolios separately. Helen reported that the definition of what is a ‘strategic decision’ will be set out in the mandatory Children’s Rights Scheme. Kenny suggested that Scottish Government (SG) should already have a conception of whether the budget is a strategic decision in light of the Fairer Scotland Duty (FSD). Helen noted that there are ambitions for cohesion between FSD and the present Bill. Tom added that FSD guidance on defining ‘strategic decisions’ is currently being considered as part of the 3 year implementation period review of the Fairer Scotland guidance and suggested that it would be useful if both teams could arrive at a similar approach on this. Liz suggested that in theory, the budget is all one thing, yet there is a practical question about how to analyse it, with the way this has been done so far being to analyse by portfolio. She acknowledged that there are improvements to be made and welcomed shared working on that.

Ali asked whether any work is being done to help colleagues understand children’s rights. Helen outlined that there was a 3 year implementation programme planned and it includes 3 work streams, including one work stream on SG Leadership for Children’s Rights which will include capability building for SG officials.

Richard asked if there had been any concern expressed or consideration given to the challenges of preparing for commencement in 6 months after Royal Assent. Helen noted that the children’s rights sector had successfully lobbied for a stage 2 amendment requiring the commencement of duties to be 6 months after royal assent (as opposed to the Scottish Government amendment of commencement 12 months after Royal Assent which would have allowed more time for a preparatory programme). Helen noted that the implementation programme will prioritise work to assist with readiness for commencement first.

More broadly, Helen welcomed the connection of the ambition of children’s rights with work to embed equality and human rights in budget decisions, and noted that the team are very open to taking an integrated and intersectional approach, tying in to other work such as the review of FSD guidance.

Angela noted that the overhanging question is whether there should be similar legislation on budget scrutiny in other areas, chiming with calls from the Social Renewal Advisory Board and the National Advisory Council on Women and Girls.

Helen noted that the National Taskforce For Human Rights Leadership recommendations are due soon and agreed that this question is relevant to human rights legislation. Angela noted that the Budget Process Review Group also wanted to incorporate changes to the budget legislation. Helen said that they are partly conceptualising their work to implement the UNCRC legislation as a forerunner to the human rights bill as well.

Angela thanked children’s rights colleagues for their contribution and it was agreed that EBAG would stay in touch.

Item three: this year’s budget process

Liz presented feedback from those involved in this year’s EFSBS. Key points were:

  • the templates worked better for some areas than others – for some it was repetitive or restrictive, with ongoing difficulties for areas where a lot of spend goes out to other public bodies or agencies. Separating long-term and redirected spend was also difficult for some
  • the template worked better for portfolios that tailored their inequalities
  • there is a need to look at workload for the central team, which grew this year
  • a final stage of feedback to portfolios is being introduced this year
  • there was better collaboration between the EFSBS team and the central budget team this year, although there is ongoing disconnect at portfolio level
  • work was often left to analysts, even though a policy lead was requested – with subsequent difficulties in prioritising policy to cover
  • data and evidence gaps are ongoing

Overall there was felt to be an improvement in this year’s products, including the main document content, the presence of the summary, and better read-across to the main budget. Flaws remain, including a lack of streamlining, variable quality, difficulty talking only about one-year budgets, and a lack of discussion of revenue raising. Suggestions for next year are to:

  • keep the same template
  • ensure that joint leads are nominated (senior policy and analytical)
  • incorporate more analysis of revenue raising
  • encourage building of evidence bases
  • incorporate analysis of funding to other bodies

Tim suggested a need to balance continuing vs new elements, being mindful of workloads. Sean noted that development of the new mainstreaming equality and human rights strategy is underway and that it could be useful to have the lead (Trevor Owen) come to an upcoming EBAG meeting to discuss this.

Members commented that the EFSBS made more sense this year and was a good step in the right direction. Ali noted that the content of the summary was much more accessible and that connecting risks and national outcomes was helpful. However Emma flagged a disconnect between the EFSBS and big announcements in the budget, mainly that the council tax freeze wasn’t included. She suggested perhaps this was an organisational issue and asked about the role of the central finance team in oversight of budget as a whole. Mirren highlighted an issue with those responding self-selecting what is included and that the largest areas of spend must be covered, including funding of external organisations who can be instrumental for equality.

Chris asked how much of the work influences decisions, and Liz responded that the process of understanding the equality impacts of policy does make a difference. Chris noted that the next stage should be to more transparently influence budget decisions.

Item four: human rights budgeting – next steps

Ali noted that some key rights were missing in the EFSBS and flagged a knowledge gap about minimum standards and progressive realisation. She warned that we need to be careful that they don’t become the ceiling instead of the floor. She noted a particular disappointment with the Finance template, which in her view should relate to everything.

Louise thanked Ali for her recent work aligning 2020 PfG commitments with human rights and noted that it will be really useful for ongoing work including influencing this year’s PfG. She welcomed further conversation with Ali about this work.

Item five: draft recommendations for ministers

Emma noted that the recommendations are quite long and that it’s not always clear how they would be observed and measured. She suggested specifying a measure for each recommendation, e.g. internal surveys or tracking EqIAs publications. She asked whether the recommendations should specify particular parts of the budget where 3 year budgeting should be the norm, e.g. local government.

Tom suggested ensuring the Group is clear on how the recommendations will be used and presented, since they are quite high level and don’t include timetables, sequencing etc. He also noted a need to think about resourcing requirements. Tim agreed and suggested that the Group select a top 2/3 priority outcomes that they want to see early progress on. Richard also agreed. Emma suggested highlighting a few (10?) that EBAG would like a report back on in the next year, then perhaps 10 more the following year? Richard suggested a table of recommendations at the end, with high, medium and low priority. Tom noted that recognition of equality budgeting as a year round process is key for him and others agreed.

Liz asked who these recommendations are to come from, noting that external members have the scope to be more challenging. Angela suggested they come from the chair with external members’ names. Some external members flagged that they would need to seek approval from their organisations and Kenny suggested wording along the lines of ‘with support from external members’ without specific names. This was generally agreed as a good approach and Emma noted that it would be good to recognise input from external members and deliberation with internal members. Angela agreed.

Liz suggested that an increasing need for year-round analytical support for equality budgeting and where that is situated could be considered within the recommendations. Richard also suggested trade-offs and links between decisions and outcomes be highlighted. Emma suggested drawing out links to the mainstreaming strategy and taskforce, resourcing, training, impact assessments, Medium Term Financial Strategy, Programme for Government. Angela agreed on being clear about links so that they don’t seem to be competing with asks from elsewhere. Kenny proposed asking how SG complies with the PSED and FSD in the budget process and Angela suggested that perhaps the ‘how’ in the budget process could be made more visible.

Angela noted that 16 March has now been set for a meeting with Ms Forbes. Ali, Mirren and Sara have so far indicated that they would like to attend. Tim suggested that Ms Forbes will be keen to understand practical things to do to make a difference. He suggested that members go to the meeting with a clear sense of why this is important and 3 key things that SG can do to make a difference.

Angela invited colleagues to submit further comments and thoughts on priorities via email. She noted that she will let colleagues see the paper before it goes.

Item six: AOB and closing remarks

Angela noted that the Group’s terms of reference might be on the agenda for the coming months, perhaps via email. She noted that recent correspondence from a member of the public has been a reminder of the importance of transparency.

Liz updated that a feasibility assessment of distributional analysis of the budget will be published soon. She also asked whether EBAG members were happy with additional SG colleagues attending EBAG as observers. Angela suggested an EBAG seminar, workshop or Q and A session instead. Mirren thought this should be for SG members to decide but emphasised the importance of preserving the ability for the Group to have frank conversations. Liz noted that current policy is for non-members to only join for specific agenda items or when substituting for a core internal EBAG member. It was agreed that this practice should continue.

Liz also welcomed any further comments on the EFSBS.

Actions:

  • EBAG to invite Trevor Owen to speak about the mainstreaming strategy
  • members to submit further thoughts on priority recommendations

Recommendations for ministers (for Angela, Liz and Gillian)

  • incorporate measures against each recommendation

  • specify timescales

  • add a table of recommendations at the end, with each flagged as high, medium or low priority
  • recommendations to come from chair ‘with support from external members’

Links with asks and recommendations from elsewhere to be made clear