Publication - Minutes

Equality Budget Advisory Group minutes: October 2020

Published: 3 Mar 2021
Date of meeting: 21 Oct 2020

Minutes of the Equality Budget Advisory Group meeting held on 21 October 2020.

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

Attendees and apologies

Attendees   

  • Angela O'Hagan (Chair)
  • Emma Congreve, Fraser of Allander Institute
  • Liz Hawkins, Scottish Government Communities Analysis
  • Alison Hosie, Scottish Human Rights Commission
  • Matthew Izatt-Lowry, Scottish Government Economic Policy
  • Mirren Kelly, COSLA
  • Anne Meikle, Scottish Women's Budget Group
  • Kathleen Robertson, Scottish Government Economic Policy
  • Kenny Stewart, Equality and Human Rights Commission
  • Ben Walsh, Scottish Government Scottish Budget Unit
  • Graeme Wilson, Scottish Government Office of the Chief Social Policy Adviser
  • Gillian Achurch, Scottish Government Communities Analysis (Secretariat)
  • Sarah Watters, COSLA (first 30 minutes)

Apologies   

  • Tim Ellis, Scottish Government Performance and Outcomes
  • James Fowlie, COSLA
  • Tom Lamplugh, Scottish Government Office of the Chief Social Policy Adviser
  • Jim McCormick, Joseph Rowntree Foundation
  • Fiona Page, Scottish Government Scottish Budget Unit
  • Douglas McLaren, Scottish Government Public Spending
  • Richard Robinson, Audit Scotland
  • Sean Stronach, Scottish Government Equality Unit

Items and actions

Welcome and introductions

Angela welcomed members and apologised for meeting clashing with Edinburgh half term. Input from absent members will be sought following the meeting.

The minutes of the last meeting were approved as an accurate record.

Update on the 2021-22 budget

Ben confirmed that a date has not yet been set for the Scottish Budget, due to the UK Budget being delayed until spring and a lack of detail around the UK Spending Review. The UK Spending Review will be 1-year rather than multi-year as initially expected. It is likely to be published in late November. Within SG, preparatory work on spending plans is underway, but given the UK Budget delay the Budget team are still negotiating with the Scottish Fiscal Commission (SFC) and Scottish Parliament to ensure they have enough time for forecasting and scrutiny. SFC are usually given 10 weeks’ notice so the budget is therefore likely to either be the end of December or January. The timing of Brexit also needs to be considered. From an equality perspective Ben noted that Ms Somerville (Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People) has been heavily involved in internal budget processes.

Angela noted that recommendations from the Social Renewal Advisory Board are also due later this autumn.

2021-22 Equality and Fairer Scotland Budget Statement – discussion of proposed approach

Liz gave an overview of the proposed approach to the 2021-22 Equality and Fairer Scotland Budget Statement (EFSBS). She noted that the template trialled last year was found helpful and is now being used for other purposes in Government, but it wasn’t clear that it improved the EFSBS. There is a need to try new options to improve the EFSBS this year, in particular due to both the increased emphasis that COVID has put on equality, and because organisational capacity is quite limited and the previous form of the EFSBS demanded significant resource.

This proposed approach has two stages:

  • Identifying key inequalities for each portfolio. Communities Analysis Division (CAD) and Office of the Chief Social Policy Advisor (OCSPA) will pre-fill templates with inequalities, then speak to analysts in each portfolio to see whether the key inequalities have been identified. A final set will then be agreed.
  • Analysing spend proposals with respect to the inequalities identified. The template then goes to policy budget leads to complete, in relation to long-term/continuous spend, new/redirected spend, and cuts in spend.

The advantages of this approach are that it is more logical and transparent, and supports scrutiny. It will also be easier to link in to supporting documents. The disadvantages however are that a limit is set at 2 inequalities per characteristic – which means that it will be selective in relation to both inequalities and budget lines – as well as not facilitating intersectional analysis. The SG view is that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages; Ministers are also content that it’s a reasonable approach, although they have suggested that the inequalities should include a focus on COVID. They are looking for the EFSBS to be more impactful.

Angela thanked SG colleagues for their work on this. Kathie noted that it sounds like a sensible approach, although has concerns around organisational capability and competence to fill in the template in a meaningful way, and asked how this could be supported. She also asked about timescales. Angela agreed that there is some concern around capacity and knowledge and that these feature strongly in EBAG’s draft recommendations (see Item 3).

Liz noted that the EFSBS is usually published alongside the budget, and therefore dependent on budget timescales. The two are normally commissioned at the same time. In the past it has been written by analysts – this time it will be policy colleagues (with analysts working on the inequalities). The new mainstreaming strategy is a longer term project to support learning, and in the short term CAD, OCSPA and the budget team will do what they can to support colleagues. Liz noted that it is important to be open to challenge and scrutiny, and that feedback will help with improvement for next year.  Kathie suggested that it would be good to explain some of the work being done to build capacity in the EFSBS, and Liz added that the narrative report will also include the context, summary of inequalities in Scotland, the strategic direction of the budget, and encourage feedback.

Angela agreed that putting the onus on the owners of these policy areas and actions, and requiring engagement around equalities and human rights, is important, despite issues around knowledge, confidence and competence. Matthew raised a possible concern around ensuring that the EFSBS remains evidence-based. Liz responded that it is up to portfolios to ensure that it is to the best of their ability given that it will be published and scrutinised by parliament.

Other members also agreed that this proposal seemed like a good approach. Emma suggested it be made clear that this is partially a trial and may change again, but that it is important to try new approaches.  She asked whether an alternative might be to have the same key inequalities for every portfolio to report on, based on priorities for this year’s budget, to allow for comparison and to highlight where there are gaps in work to tackle a particular inequality. This might help avoid criticism of ‘cherry-picking’. Liz noted that this was tried last year with the Excel tool, but portfolios struggled with it, and that the competence for this doesn’t yet appear to be in place. She added that the proposed approach attempts to discourage selectiveness through CAD and OCSPA setting the initial inequalities, with portfolios able to adjust them according to their priorities. This will be transparent and open to scrutiny to allow people the opportunity to ask why those were chosen, or to suggest others. Kenny agreed, suggesting that if decisions are well evidenced then it is appropriate for portfolios to have different focuses.

Angela suggested that the guidance remind people of SG’s overarching commitments, in order to work towards a synergy between NPF outcomes and the budget. Liz agreed that this could be included and added that a spreadsheet matrix was recently produced as an internal tool to show where Programme for Government (PfG) commitments were already targeting inequalities and where there were opportunities to do so – this is another tool available to portfolios during budget preparations. Angela asked if this could be published, or perhaps just mentioned in the EFSBS narrative to let people know about the work being done.

Ali noted that human rights are missing from both the proposal and the draft recommendations, and offered to review the PfG matrix confidentially to suggest where human rights standards could be embedded and help improve competence in human rights analysis (timescales allowing). She agreed that it was better not to try to include human rights analysis in the templates at this point because there’s not yet the capacity to integrate it, but that supporting current work in this way might help to start filtering human rights into thought processes this year. Liz thanked Ali for this offer and agreed it would be helpful.

Liz noted that the proposal is for this year’s EFSBS publication to contain a summary report written by CAD and OCSPA, plus an annex from each portfolio with a 1-2 page narrative plus the completed template. This short narrative is intended to allow space to discuss smaller spending areas that are having a positive impact on equalities and human rights. Liz is keen to produce a more accessible version as well, perhaps an easy read, which Emma and Mirren agreed would be good. Emma also suggested short videos as helpful for some people.

Mirren noted that the published evidence gathered for the COVID routemap impact assessment was very useful, and its shorter length encouraged people to read it. She suggested that the structure or presentation might help inform the EFSBS.

Angela suggested feeding back to people on a ‘you said, we did’ basis? We should help build learning, confidence and competence and signpost to resources to support analysis, but this scrutiny ultimately does have to happen within portfolios and they need to be able to articulate how what they are proposing is going to help. Angela also suggested an emphasis on inequalities rather than advancement of equality, in the context of advancement of rights, since a focus on inequalities can foreground the socio-economic and we can lose intersections. Graeme noted a risk of short term risk-averting actions trumping longer term actions, with some things being sidelined.

Angela concluded that having seen and deliberated on the proposals, EBAG are happy to approve them.

Future recommendations for Scotland’s approach to equality budgeting

Angela presented the draft recommendations, noting that since she took up the post of Independent Chair at the end 2018 EBAG have been seeking improved processes and looking at different approaches across the world (including the OECD typology of different tools and processes at ex-ante, ex-post and concurrent stages). She noted that the gender budget for Italy was published recently. The recommendations are designed to go to Ministers to recommend a process to improve and progress equalities budgeting in the next parliamentary session. This is a first draft, based on previous discussions, SHRC open budget work, an internal survey of SG staff and suggestions from Uzma. Ali and Kenny agreed that the recommendations summarised recent discussions well.

Angela noted that the draft recommendations include that multi-year budgets are preferable to one-year budgets, however we know that we need to be pragmatic. Mirren suggested that the recommendation is that multi-year budgets should be aimed for in future, to allow the public sector to plan long-term work to address inequalities. Ben noted that multi-year budgets have been aimed for in the past, but overarching conditions prevented them. He agreed that a focuses on benefits multi-year budgets would be helpful.

Angela asked for colleagues thoughts on the timing of these recommendations, particularly whether it would be best to wait until the 2021-22 budget is completed.

Ali agreed that it would be best to wait until after this budget, especially since a new approach is being trialled. However she noted that it would be good to hit the ground running with the new parliament, so perhaps between the two events would be best (so end of February or March). Angela suggested that EBAG assess how the 2021-22 budget went and whether the recommendations should be adjusted in light of that before they are submitted.

Kenny noted that the PSED does not feature and should be included in the framing, as a reminder of legal obligations. Angela agreed that it should frame the PSED as an enabling platform and the process of complying as positive. Kenny agreed that the focus should be on outcomes.

Emma asked to what extent these are recommendations or more points about things that should already be happening under the PSED and the UN Conventions that SG is signed up to. She suggested that they could present a stronger view on compliance with current requirements. Angela agreed that many of these things should be happening anyway but noted the importance of getting a balance between encouragement and admonishment. She noted that as with the PSED, this is about both meeting obligations and seeking positive outcomes. Angela suggested that we introduce examples of this throughout the document. She also added that Ministers need to be more on board with this work and to realise that they need to resource capacity and competence issues within SG.

One of the recommendations suggest external analysis be commissioned. Emma asked who might complete externally commissioned analysis, and how we can be sure that it would be as good as civil servants doing it themselves. Liz stated that external analysis would have to be tendered and that it couldn’t be published at the same time as the budget, so perhaps around 6 weeks after. She noted that this might make it less useful for scrutiny. Liz also suggested that an alternative would be to commission analysis externally every 3 years, as a check on priorities and an opportunity to generate ideas about other ways of looking at things.

Anne noted the importance of public engagement with the budget and Angela agreed that some specific recommendations on this should be added.

Angela noted that one recommendation is to replaced the EFSBS with internal analysis published before summer recess, which was part of the Budget Process Review Group recommendations. In terms of a name, this could be a ‘Pre-budget Equalities and Human Rights Assessment’. Liz noted that there is also a statutory commitment to produce a wellbeing report based on the NPF around that time of year, so how these fit together should be considered. Angela agreed that the recommendations should be clearer on the links between the NPF, PfG, budget documents, etc.

Tim submitted comments ahead of the meeting noting that the focus on systemic issues is helpful and that it would be a step forward if we could strengthen the budget process so that it supports a greater focus on public value in terms of impacting on outcomes for the most disadvantaged and not only at an overall level.

Tim agreed that transparency and accountability are important but suggested that centrally tabulating and cross-analysing all Government commitments would not be practical or desirable, with a more proportionate and risk-based approach preferable especially considering resource constraints. He also suggested that the recommendations reflect priority actions for next year.

Angela invited colleagues to submit written responses to the recommendations and asked members to also include some consideration of what to recommend to parliament within their written responses. She suggested that the next meeting (December) could be quite short, with main items being to update on the budget process, perhaps consider a second draft of the recommendations, and to establish an agenda for next year.

Actions:

  • Ben to update EBAG via Liz and Gillian once a date for the Scottish Budget is set.
  • Gillian to invite members (particularly those absent from this meeting) to submit written comments on the papers.
  • Liz, Gillian and Angela to produce a second draft of the recommendations and  either circulate these by email or bring them to the next meeting (Dec).