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Equality Budget Advisory Group minutes: June 2020

Published: 7 Sep 2020
Date of meeting: 11 Jun 2020

Minutes of the Equality Budget Advisory Group (EBAG) meeting held on 11 June 2020.

Published:
7 Sep 2020
Equality Budget Advisory Group minutes: June 2020

Attendees and apologies

Attendees

  • Angela O'Hagan (Chair)
  • Hugh Buchanan, Scottish Government Public Spending Division
  • Emma Congreve, Fraser of Allander Institute
  • Liz Hawkins, Scottish Government Communities Analysis
  • Alison Hosie, Scottish Human Rights Commission
  • Tom Lamplugh, Scottish Government (currently COVID-19 recovery)
  • Angelika Majdanik, Scottish Government National Performance Unit
  • Jim McCormick, Joseph Rowntree Foundation
  • Anne Meikle, Scottish Women's Budget Group
  • Richard Robinson, Audit Scotland
  • Kenny Stewart, Equality and Human Rights Commission
  • Barry Stalker, Scottish Government National Performance Unit
  • Sean Stronach, Scottish Government Equality Unit
  • Gillian Achurch, Scottish Government Communities Analysis (Secretariat)

Apologies                                                                                   

  • Tim Ellis, Scottish Government Performance and Outcomes
  • James Fowlie, COSLA
  • Mirren Kelly, COSLA
  • Uzma Khan, Scottish Government Economic Policy and Capability

Items and actions

Welcome from the Chair 

Angela welcomed everyone and made introductions. She noted that she has been invited onto the Advisory Board on Social Renewal (and thanked for SG colleagues for bringing EBAG into this forum). She added that this should enable good links to be maintained between the different fora.

WiSE, the Scottish Women’s Budget Group and Fraser of Allander among others have submitted responses to Advisory Group on Economic Recovery’s open call for views.

Recovery and Renewal

Item 1: Presentation on Gender and Economic Recovery principles (Anne Meikle)

Angela noted that the gendered damage of COVID-19 and calls for gendered analysis in recovery and response has been picked up far beyond the women’s sector. Difficulties especially for women in low paid jobs, and rising stress and anxiety, especially among lone parents, have been highlighted. The Gender and Economic Recovery principles published by Engender and Close the Gap are getting some traction. Close the Gap and Engender were invited to the meeting to present these but they were otherwise engaged. Anne gave the Group an overview in their absence.

Tom noted that those working on renewal have been thinking around the what and the how, and that these principles fit within both of those. He added that it will also be important for Angela to feed these in via the Advisory Board.

Angela also highlighted the importance of lessons from previous recessions regarding sectors that were ignored in the recoveries. She noted that there are cross-sector calls to move towards a care-led economy, due to its centrality to our economy as well as our economic and social wellbeing.

Emma indicated that Fraser of Allander (FoA) are focusing primarily on the short and medium term, and noted that talk of renewal and the future can get a bit abstract at times. FoA did a recent podcast on schooling and gendered impacts, including evidence that it is having a detrimental impact on women’s ability to do paid work. She noted that home schooling is likely to last a long time and so failure to prevent harms now will make it even harder to recoup in the renewal stage (and that we don’t know when that will be). It may be better to focus on ideas such as virtual schooling to take some pressure off parental needs now.

Angela added that talking about the economy opening while schools and childcare remain closed was premature, and that there needs to be more focus on flexible working and support for working parents and carers as part of economy restarting and recovery. There has also been a temporary stall around the childcare expansion programme while construction work was paused – Angela noted that ELC should be a priority for equality-focused spend.

Richard agreed that it is important to think about how what’s happening now could exacerbate impacts. He noted that OCEA’s latest monthly economic brief emphasised that the pandemic is not affecting all groups the same, with the younger disproportionately affected. Richard agreed that there is a need for gendered analysis to consider e.g. childcare and caring, but he asked how analysis will consider other protected characteristics as well. Angela agreed, highlighting the disproportionate negative impacts on Black and minority ethnic people and that isolation affects people across different life stages.

Item 2: Update on the SG Renew programme (Tom Lamplugh)

Tom set out that the Renew team are starting to draw out some high level findings  and to develop thinking around emerging priorities, which are expected to help shape this year’s  Programme for Government (PfG) and budget.

Initial findings from the renewal work are that:

  • impacts will have long-term scarring effects for different groups and sectors, and positive impacts such as environmental ones are likely temporary unless actively locked in by policy interventions
  • people will be impacted concurrently by economic, social and environmental impacts. Immediate and longer term psychological impacts will be far reaching.
  • there is a high level of uncertainty and conclusions will need continually reviewing and updating over time
  • impacts of COVID-19 will be felt most sharply by those already most vulnerable
  • they will also be impacted  by Scotland’s place in the UK and Europe and the tight fiscal conditions going into the 2021-22 budget.

Distinctions are being made between what we do and how we do it. Initial findings suggest that:

  • what we do: the overall renewal response should be driven by a cross-cutting focus on addressing the inequalities exposed by COVID and driving progress towards net zero. It should build Scotland’s future resilience.
  • how we do it: by placing more value on openness and transparency, involving citizens and being informed by lived experience, breaking down barriers between organisations, sectors & communities to work in a more person centred way, stepping up culture change and ensuring financial sustainability through embedding transparent outcome based budgeting.

Tom noted that these conclusions remain provisional but draw extensively on cross government work and analysis on renewal, particularly that focused ed on  social and economic renewal. 

Angela thanked Tom and remarked that these conclusions mark a key moment for equalities, for human rights and for EBAG. She asked how EBAG can support the process of reinforcing this alignment between high-level policy and political aspirations and what practical processes need to happen. She welcomed both the political momentum and the significant evidence base behind these but asked what needs to happen on a practical level.

Ali welcomed the human-rights-based approach seen in the focus on transparency, openness, changing culture and fiscal sustainability. However she added that the questions raised by the Budget Process Review Group (BPRG) are still in progress and that the most recent budget revision had no equalities and human rights analysis contained within them. There is therefore a gap between what we say on transparency and what happens in practice. She noted that there is plenty of evidence already on what needs to happen, and so it would be good to see more on what SG intends to do in practical terms.

Tom responded that the required changes to the budget process are on their radar, and that involving citizens and harnessing the power of communities has come through very clearly. He noted that Zoe Fergusson has come in to help develop an external engagement approach to support the renewal work, as well as other engagement work across SG.

Angela noted that some of the Open Budget Survey findings are really relevant, as is GCU work and Oliver Escobar’s work, among others on participatory governance. Angela asked about internal links on this work within SG. Sean noted that the Equality Unit has been speaking to the Exchequer and the plan is for the financial decision making to form around the Renew process so that they are not separate discussions. They will be themed around inequality with a particular focus on the impact of COVID. Sean agreed that questions about the ‘how’ of next steps are the right ones to be asking, and while they don’t have the answers yet there are several ways in which external views are feeding in. Ms Campbell and Ms Somerville are leading on this work, to ensure that social renewal is coordinated across government and around PfG development.

Emma remarked that a lot of issues highlighted by COVID have been around for some time, and so asked to what extent we can evaluate similar programmes in order to understand where best to put resource? She also asked, from a transparency point of view, how it will be decided which of the different ideas that are put forward from different forums will be taken forward. Emma suggested that perhaps EBAG can play a role in ensuring transparency around this, and added that this might help with overall consensus.

Tom agreed fully and noted that the renewal work (as with much of the other work happening) hasn’t yet got into the detail of policy development. He noted that it will be critical to look at evidence about what’s likely to be most effective and opportunities to be bolder and draw on international practice, and to do so in an outcomes-focused way. Angela proposed that she write to Ms McKelvie and Ms Forbes to offer that EBAG set out practical advice around this.

Jim joined the meeting and asked about how SG are balancing acting quickly with doing the right thing. Liz set out that in terms of evaluation there are three main areas:

  • long-term policies such as those on the attainment gap and Early Learning and Childcare are ongoing, but COVID-necessitated differences in how research is being conducted mean there will be some limits on the comparability of data across years.
  • the very fast response to the COVID outbreak meant that many of the wonderful things that broke down barriers were done so quickly there was no time to put evaluation or monitoring in place, and some organisations could not cope with collecting data at same time – we therefore now need to look back as well as try to put some kind of monitoring in place going forwards. Examples here were the responses around homelessness and cash-first approach to food.
  • thirdly, new programmes starting now, such as the laptops going to shielded groups, have had evaluation built in.

Budgeting Process

Item 3: Update from SG on the budget revision process and links to outcomes reporting (Hugh Buchanan, Barry Stalker & Angelika Majdanik)

Hugh set out that the Budget Revision was laid in parliament on 27 May and was to go before the Finance Committee on 12 June, followed by a vote to hopefully agree the measures. It adds some £4bn to the SG budget for this year, which reflects additional funding from the UK Government plus SG reprioritisation of existing programmes. This process seeks approval for reallocation and reprioritisation measures taken by Ministers over the last 3 months, including support for communities, business, individuals and health service. In response to a challenge from the Chair about the absence of visible equalities analysis, officials commented that equalities are a central part of the Framework for Decision Making (and FM has also reiterated this point on several occasions) and so have been a part of portfolios’ thinking as they’ve made decisions.

Hugh noted that the advice on equalities consideration is disseminated across portfolios and that that’s where decision making on spending is made – Finance is not the arbiter of these decisions. Angela suggested that one of the major structural dimensions to EBAG’s work is to make that process much more transparent in the budget documentation. She advocated for Finance’s thinking just as much as individual portfolios’ thinking to be reflecting equalities and human rights principles.

Hugh noted that substantial progress has been made on this. Angela agreed and suggested that we now need to move to the next stage, where public budgetary documentation reflects the decision making that has informed budget decisions, making it clear how evaluation and evidence that shape policy also shape spend.

Ali remarked that while it is good to set out these principles on equalities and human rights, this process misses out the key step of taking into account what the Government’s legal obligations are in relation to human rights standards. Angela agreed that the Framework is very strong but that this equality analysis wasn’t reflected in the budget revisions. She asked how they will inform the evaluation stage referred to by Liz as well as evaluation of outcomes against budgetary commitments.

Angelika noted that the 2020-21 budget had had more clearly articulated linkages between budget lines and outcomes than previous Budgets, with the NPF team working closely with equalities analysts. She added that they were pleased to have ensured that this information is included in the budget document itself, to make sure it was presented as integral to the decision making process. This should be seen as the first step on a long journey, with which lots of help is needed. Barry agreed that this is a work in progress, building on progress from previous years, and noted that they are trying to embed NPF considerations into policy decision making.

Richard asked whether this year’s wellbeing report had been postponed, and Barry confirmed that it has been due to reprioritisations around COVID. He added that the intention is still to publish something but they are also considering what the report should cover – such as reflecting on 20 years of devolution – and want to ensure that anything published will add value and be a useful contribution. The Medium Term Financial Strategy has also been rescheduled and the team are looking to reach agreement with Ms Forbes about when this will be published. Angela asked about the NPF and SDGs report and Barry confirmed that this is also being reviewed.

Angela commented that there are positive signs of progress, with clear need to maintain momentum.

Item 4: Short reports on current and planned equalities analysis on the labour market and social security and integration into policy development

Two papers had been circulated to the group prior to the meeting (available here and here). Angela noted that these were enormously helpful papers which offer useful information about what kind of information is generated and where is goes. She added that they were also very helpful in terms of transparency and accountability, and for information sharing across EBAG. However she added that they raise the same questions about where this information goes, and how information about those who are not currently in receipt of social security will feed through to other policy actions to address this.

Item 5: Integrating equality and human rights – lessons from the Open Budget Initiative (Ali Hosie) 

Ali presented the background and key findings of the Open Budget Survey research conducted by SHRC. The review looked at the 2017-18 budget and found that Scotland scored below the global average on transparency, above for participation (although there was a very low bar overall), and performed best in terms of budget oversight. She noted that Scotland’s low transparency score is primarily because 4 of the 8 documents considered key were not published, and that the lack of in-year and mid-year budget reports made it very hard to follow money from budget to spend to impact cycle. The citizens’ budget being produced after the budget has been passed does not enable participation. A top recommendation is for every document to have a citizens’ version. Information on the public engagement processes was also hard to access, and the majority of public scrutiny is at pre-budget stage and by the legislator, not the executive. The report identifies a number of areas where Scotland has progressed well, e.g. the Medium-Term Forecast, the production of a citizens budget (if post-budget), and the overall narrative. The NPF incorporating process indicators could help to link Government commitments to outcomes on the ground. Ali summarised that there has been progress but there is a long way to go and COVID has highlighted the need for transparency, so that it is easier for the public to understand why decisions are being taken.

Hugh noted that this was useful feedback, and that while this budget was before the BPRG recommendations were implemented, he recognises that we have more progress to make. Angela added that what these findings speak to what the Group had heard from Angelika, Barry and Hugh but especially from Tom – re the ‘what’. She suggested that it would be helpful to have a follow-up conversation between Finance and Strategy, perhaps with Angela, Richard and Tom, to discuss how to operationalise these findings and how EBAG can support this. Angela also noted that these findings can feed into EBAG’s September meeting, which will look at potential improvements to the EFSBS.  

Richard commented that it is important to remember that we are not starting from ground zero on any of this, and that the BPRG recommendations are relevant, as are the 6 step approach and the Framework for Decision Making. Audit Scotland have noted that there is more uncertainty than ever in the Scottish budget which means that in-year budget management becomes really important. There may be other changes that require quick reactions from SG, so having processes and structures in place to quickly determine what impacts could be on people will be really important to bring together financial decisions and outcomes (and also to mitigation and reporting in a transparent way). Angela agreed with these points, noting that there is a strong evidence base around budget processes, and added that present circumstances also offer a huge opportunity.

Angelika suggested that a key point, also recognised in SPICe briefings, is that increasing spend in one area doesn’t mean it will improve outcomes – instead we need to improve systems thinking. Angela thanked Angelika for coming and welcomed her to return to EBAG if she would find useful.

Actions:

  1. Angela to write to Ms McKelvie and Ms Forbes setting out where EBAG is sighted and reaffirming equality and human rights budgeting as a core approach to deliver the renewal and recovery that will feature in the PfG. The letter should note the importance of considering evidence about what’s likely to be most effective and opportunities to be bolder and draw on international practice, and to do so in an outcomes-focused way. External members of EBAG can offer to set out practical advice around this.
  2. Gillian to arrange a follow-up conversation between Finance and Strategy, Angela, Richard and Tom, to discuss the findings of the OBI review and how best to take a process approach to equality and human rights budgeting. EBAG members can also highlight some of the analytical tools that we know are best for this.
  3. EBAG members to send Angela and Gillian links to tools, ideas and examples of where these processes are working well elsewhere they will collate the resources, to feed into the EBAG meeting planned for September.