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Equality Budget Advisory Group minutes: September 2019

Date of meeting: 12 Oct 2019

Minutes of the Equality Budget Advisory Group (EBAG) meeting held on 12 September 2019.

Equality Budget Advisory Group minutes: September 2019

Attendees and apologies

Attendees

  • Angela O’Hagan, WiSE, Glasgow Caledonian University (Chair)
  • Hugh Buchanan, Scottish Government Public Spending Division
  • Lesley Crozier, Equalities lead for Midlothian Council
  • Tim Ellis, Scottish Government Performance and Outcomes Division
  • Liz Hawkins, Scottish Government Communities Analysis
  • Ali Hosie, Scottish Human Rights Commission
  • Mirren Kelly, COSLA
  • Jim McCormick, Joseph Rowntree Foundation
  • Anne Meikle, Scottish Women’s Budget Group
  • Richard Robinson, Audit Scotland
  • Sean Stronach, Scottish Government Equality Unit
  • Sarah Watters, COSLA
  • Gillian Achurch, Scottish Government Communities Analysis (Secretariat)

Apologies

  • Uzma Khan, Scottish Government Office of the Chief Economic Advisor
  • Tom Lamplugh, Scottish Government Office of the Chief Social Policy Advisor
  • John Wilkes, Equality and Human Rights Commission

Items and actions

1. Deep dive on local government

SHRC commissioned a mystery shopping approach to assess local councils’ budget transparency. None were reaching what the Scottish Information Commissioner considers ‘minimum compliance’. Every Local Authority (LA) makes critical information available online, but there are issues with accessibility and information being up-to-date. Equalities and Human Rights outcomes are rarely mentioned in LA budgets. The next focus for SHRC will be on looking at how the money is actually allocated and spent. 

Sarah noted that analysis of budgets should be seen in the context of squeezed LA budgets, and the pressure of one-year budgets. 

Lesley provided a description of the equality budgeting process in Midlothian. She noted that the DoF in Midlothian has worked alongside her on each budget and EQIAs are done for each budget line. A report on this is presented to elected members before decisions are made. Lesley further noted that Midlothian have integrated impact assessments that also cover Fairer Scotland, GDPR etc, specifically for budget purposes and covering equalities and socio-economic status.

Angela suggested that Midlothian might make a good case study for the new guidance published by Scottish Government.

Sarah agreed that NPF links are often weak and suggested that SG are not making the connections. Sarah noted that her team are going to start some work looking at different policy areas to identify what is being asked for and why. She noted that the Directors of Finance (DoF) group would be interested in equality budgeting approaches. Mirren added that Glasgow Council are looking at the level of reporting requirement and the impact that that has on time for other work. Liz noted that this was a message clearly heard at visits to local authorities by the Chief Social Work Advisor and the Director of Children and Families. Work is consequently starting within the Scottish Government to rationalise what reporting is asked for and why. Mirren added that reporting requirements drive behaviour – you can be penalised for being flexible, so this doesn’t allow room for flexible thinking or working. 

Sarah noted that committees are very focused on ring-fenced funding for LAs rather than flexibility, and COSLA has given evidence to Committees on this. Angela asked whether there was  a transparency issue around budget allocation to LAs.  Hugh responded that the Local Government finance circular is the best place to find information on LA funding. He clarified that SG does not determine the whole budget of LAs who do have council tax raising powers. He also noted that there is a conversation to be had and a balance to be struck around ring fencing.  Ministers do will be held accountable for policy choices in Parliament so it is often incumbent on them to ensure that LAs deliver and behave in a way that supports these policy aims.  

Sean asked what impact Community Planning Partnerships are having, and what the interface is like between LA budget decision making and community planning/LOIPs. Sarah said that it’s difficult to bring the two budgets together. She also noted that LAs are only ones that are accountable, and that the framing is different for LAs. For example LA  overspends being named as such, whereas they are called deficits in  health.

Tim noted that there’s always some tension between annual, short-term budgets and long-term outcomes. LOIPs are important for looking at the longer term. The Improvement Service have done some work on this. 

Mirren noted that LA work on links to the NPF are moving forward. Richard highlighted Audit Scotland’s recent report on community empowerment

Sarah noted that budget circulars are not easy to follow, and highlighted the importance of LAs, SG and Parliament agreeing on how budget information is presented – whether money is ‘new’ or not, for example. Angela suggested that some of these points, including some evidence from Lesley, are taken back to the Committees for Local Government and Communities and Finance and Constitution, as well as to COSLA Directors of Finance.

Actions

  • Lesley to share Midlothian’s budget impact assessments.
  • Scottish Government to look into compiling a case study on Midlothian’s equality budgeting.
  • Sarah to pick up with Ali and Directors of Finance section on proportionate improvements to LA budget documentation. 

2. Minutes from May meeting

Minutes were approved without amendment. Angela noted that Chris Oswald is now on secondment from EHRC to SG, and that John Wilkes will be attending for EHRC.

3. Overview of recent work from SG

3.1 Update from Tim on the Programme for Government (PfG)   

Tim offered an overview of the recently published PfG, which has a climate change focus – setting out a successful, fair and green economy. 

The 2018 PfG committed to assess all future PfGs for gender sensitivity. Teams were also asked to consider 3 other characteristics (race, disability and socio-economic status) Each new proposal described the problem, evidence and how it would progress equality, using a red-amber-green system. These are early stage proposals and full EQIAs will also take place, but the results can work as a useful warning sign to use in the work going forwards. Two-thirds of new proposals were judged to have a positive effect on gender equality. This was a first attempt, which will be learned from. It highlighted some inconsistencies of understanding on inequalities. Tim noted that assessing for inequality at this early stage is quite difficult. It will be explored whether the categories set out in Oxfam’s Data for Gender Responsive Budgeting could be used instead of the red-amber-green rating for next year.

Mirren asked whether we need to look at a minimum standard in terms of NPF outcomes, and whether we should choose which outcomes to prioritise. For example, does focusing on economy at the expense of culture have an impact for equalities? Jim suggested that we need to get towards better understanding the scale of impacts. We should also assess policies that are already in place. Tim agreed, but cautioned that this might not be straightforward to achieve. However another part of his team, responsible for performance, are starting to think about how to look at the big things SG are doing and how that’s driving outcomes.

Angela noted that this is an exciting approach, and that while we know that there is inconsistency in understanding, the important thing is to recognise and seek to address it. Ali added that this work is important in connecting programme, policy and budget to achieving outcomes, and Mirren also credited this as a positive step forward. 

Sean acknowledged the need for EQIAs to happen at an earlier stage, and Angela noted that they should also move away from the quantitative, ‘counting people’ approach towards a more structural assessment.

3.2 Update from Hugh on Finance’s approach to this year’s Spending Review      

Spending Reviews are usually multi-year but this time the UK only published a one-year Spending Round (4 September). This was disappointing for SG and Local Government as it’s consequently difficult to set budgets beyond 2020/21. It is only a spending announcement, and doesn’t address economic forecasting or tax policy. It gives a headline figure for the block grant but does not inform on adjustments for economic forecasts and tax policies. The 2020/21 UK budget is expected sometime this autumn – if it is delayed from the usual timeline, we may have to make our budget on the basis of estimates. It is not yet decided whether the Scottish Government will publish spending figures beyond 2020-21 in December.

The Scottish Government spending review is enabling Cabinet to look at the collective picture of their priorities over the 4-year period to 2023/24. The spending review will be conducted in the context of 4 priority themes: economy, climate challenge, child poverty, and wellbeing. 

Angela noted that facilitating conversations with and between Cabinet Secretaries is very helpful. Richard asked how this relates to the Medium Term Financial Strategy. Hugh explained that the MTFS sets out expectations, and may take on more significance in informing spending than expected if UK economic forecasts are not available. 

3.3 Update from Sean on developments in the Equality Unit

The Equality Unity is building capacity so that they are able to meet the existing level of expectations. The Strategy & Mainstreaming team is being revived and work will be able to start up again properly on the review of the Public Sector Equality Duty. Ministers have decided to take a step back and take a logic model approach, to look at what makes a difference. Developing a theory of change with internal and external stakeholders will be the first step, as well as looking across various impact assessments. There is work taking place in the policy profession to refresh the model of policy development.  Equality Unit are linking in to this to make sure that equalities and human rights are integrated. Some of the substantial recommendations accepted from first National Advisory Council on Women and Girls report sit within his team, such as a potential ‘What Works’ institute and gender Beacon collaborative of organisations to look at best practice.

3.4 Update from Liz on equality budgeting guidance 

Liz thanked everyone for their help in producing the informal guidance, especially COSLA, Ali and Angela. It has received a positive reception and been circulated amongst senior policy maker sin the Scottish Government. The Minister for Equalities and Older People has also sent it to all subject committees along with references to a range of equalities evidence for them to use in budget scrutiny. Gillian will be promoting it further during the evidence in policy fortnight. Other areas have also been in touch to discuss it further.

Jim suggested that the Improvement Service might be a good route to making connections on this with partners who are already thinking in the inequality space, particularly in areas such as transport and planning.

Actions

  • Angela to circulate the guidance again on behalf of EBAG, and note that EBAG will follow up in 6 months to enquire about progress with it.
  • Angela/Gillian to gather any responses to this follow-up for case studies.
  • Angela  to write to the Improvement Service in relation to this work, on behalf of EBAG and SG.
  • Liz/Gillian to share feedback after Evidence in Policy fortnight.

4. Future options for the Equality Budget Statement (EBS)

Angela asked the Group to consider whether they want to continue with the EBS in its current form, or make modifications, and to think about its purpose. She noted that it is internationally recognised and that it’s important to preserve it in some form, but that we know that it’s not fully used for either parliamentary scrutiny or policymaking. The process should be strengthened, but there is also a need to keep in mind the difficult present circumstances outlined by Hugh.

There was consensus that the EBS should be retained in some form.

Anne noted that she finds the EBS useful to see what is being spent where, and to  hold government to account. However, she cautioned that it’s not informative in terms of relative spend, not widely known or used for awareness-raising or accountability, and the lack of links to equality objectives is a weakness. Her view was that it should link to the PfG and be referenced in and integrated with other key budgeting and performance documents. Angela also suggested that the EBS might be better aligned with the PfG than the budget, as its publication alongside the budget inhibits its usefulness as an impact assessment. Anne suggested that a ‘holding position’ should be prepared for this year, with more significant improvements in future. 

Mirren and Ali both suggested that it could be made more concise and accessible this year. Tim queried whether it is meant to be an easy read, or rather a resource to be used throughout the year. We need to think primarily about purpose and intent, and what’s most useful for people (as well as cost of production relative to utility).

Ali noted that the template set out in the informal equality budgeting guidance contains the information that she would find useful. Contextual information would also be beneficial. Richard agreed that he also thinks this template is useful. He also highlighted the need to consider the impact of spend, and not only the quantity. Ali agreed that progressive realisation doesn’t necessarily have to entail increased year-on-year spend.

Jim suggested that the Child Poverty strategy work might be instructive, with targets in law, a delivery plan, and Government commitment to evaluate 6-8 of 50 outcomes which are deemed the most impactful. If this approach is applied to the gender pay gap or apprenticeships, it could lead to a useful product that might get more profile. 

Jim noted that political leadership and media scrutiny are essential to drive the EBS as a valuable product. 

Tim noted that there’s a tension between comprehensiveness and focus – whether the EBS should set out all equalities-related spend, or the key areas of spend that are deemed most important for equalities, and which should be tracked. Liz noted that its current focus on at all 9 protected characteristics, plus socio-economic status, is challenging, especially with a lack of data for some characteristics.

Jim suggested that a dashboard format is useful but also requires context and worked-through examples, with longer-term deep dives offering a fuller picture of what is being achieved. Angela agreed that a dashboard can offer a clearer narrative but narrative on participation should also be included. She suggested including an overarching purpose of Government, with focus on specific areas, to establish how spend is intended to make a difference. She noted international processes are often indicator-heavy, which helps monitor change over time.

Angela asked whether the Group were in favour of an EBS based on the template. Liz noted that it could be useful, but may be difficult to do for all 9 protected characteristics. She suggested that perhaps it could be piloted this year, in some portfolios or for big lines of spend (e.g. over £100 million). Hugh added that it takes a long time to change direction, and it might be a more realistic option to better understand whether it’s a useful approach to look at applying across the EBS in future years. Richard added that auditors are interested in key overarching themes.

Ali suggested that if we are to aim for fuller improvements over 18 months, time should be taken to identify who’s using it and what they want from it.

Actions

  • EBAG to recommend that this year is not the right time for an overhaul, but that it could be a good opportunity to pilot some new approaches in couple of spend areas with a view to more comprehensive changes next year.

5. AOB

Angela noted that the Public Expenditure and Financial Accountability sector of World Bank have approached EBAG about Scotland trialling their approach. It has been tested in Antigua and Barbuda, St Lucia and Ukraine, and is also planned to be piloted in Indonesia, Tonga and Anguilla.