Preparing to meet the Duty
How can public bodies meet the Duty in practice?
Tackling socio-economic disadvantage and narrowing gaps in outcomes are core to what public bodies do now, so the new Duty should not be particularly burdensome. Indeed, the aim of the Duty is to encourage better decision-making and ultimately deliver better outcomes for those who are socio-economically disadvantaged. It should also be a means of ensuring public authorities take economic and social rights into account. This guidance has been designed to build on existing practice as far as possible.
At the heart of the new Duty is the key requirement.
This is an expectation that public bodies will:
- actively consider, at an appropriate level, what more they can do to reduce the inequalities of outcome, caused by socio-economic disadvantage, in any strategic decision-making or policy development context, and
- publish a written assessment, showing how they've done this.
In doing this, public bodies must approach the Duty in a way that:
- is not a tick-box exercise but is meaningful and influences decision-making
- helps to achieve public bodies' strategic corporate and equality outcomes
- makes sense to the public body in relation to the work they do and the processes they already have in place
- makes sense to the people and communities they serve (in many cases this may need direct community participation), and
- helps bring about demonstrable change.
Aside from the key requirement, public bodies are able to approach meeting the Duty as they see fit. The Scottish Government wants to encourage innovation in how public bodies meet the Duty and welcomes different approaches at this stage. We also want to wait until the PSED review work concludes and learn from best practice in meeting the Fairer Scotland Duty. However, guidance on how public bodies can prepare for and implement the Duty are set out in the following pages.
Preparing for the new Duty
Public bodies can prepare for the new Duty by considering the following issues re definitions.
A definition of socio-economic disadvantage has been set out earlier in this guidance. Public bodies will be working within their own specific contexts so may wish to use this definition, but are able to adapt it as a starting point for future decision-making involving the Duty. For example, public bodies working across Community Planning Partnerships may already have a definition in use or they may want to work together on developing a new shared one. Once defined, the public body could usefully describe the patterns of socio-economic disadvantage within its areas of interest.
A follow on task would determine what the key inequalities of outcome are, from the public body's perspective. Crucially these should be inequalities of outcome the public body could realistically do something about. A key focus here should be thinking through the links between socio-economic concerns and the equality work already underway – this is an ideal opportunity to bring together issues of gender, ethnicity, and disability (for example) with issues of socio-economic and place-based disadvantage. For many public sector bodies, key inequalities of outcome will already have been identified in developing Local Outcomes Improvement Plans and associated Locality Action Plans.
A third task is to identify which strategic decisions are taken as a matter of course. Many public authorities already routinely do this kind of work when considering their role and contribution to community planning and in helping to shape the priorities for specific places which will be set out in Local Outcome Improvement Plans. Identifying which strategic decisions tend to be taken when should help public bodies with their planning processes.
Through all these preparatory stages, it will be important to involve relevant communities, particularly people with direct experience of poverty and disadvantage. Note too that the costs of involving some groups – for example, disabled people – can often be higher, as barriers to their participation need to be overcome. A new funding stream is available from 2018-19 – small amounts of money to help public bodies start up new 'Poverty Truth Commission' type groups locally, ideally in collaboration with local authorities. This is seedcorn money only, but should provide some help for consultation requirements at local level. Joint bids from groups of local public bodies are particularly welcome. In the first instance, we'll be looking to support areas of Scotland where this kind of group would be a significant development locally.