5 Proposal 2
Embedding inclusive communications
The Scottish Government is of the view that a new duty should be placed on listed authorities that goes beyond publications under the Scottish Specific Duty (SSD) regulations, and that seeks to ensure inclusive communication is embedded proportionately across the work of listed authorities when they are communicating with the public. A clear definition of what communicating in an inclusive way means will be provided, recognising that inclusive communication is about ensuring effective engagement with everyone, including those who understand and express themselves in different ways. Listed authorities would be required to report on how they have met this duty as part of their overarching mainstreaming reporting duty.
To create the conditions for effective implementation of the new duty, the Scottish Government intends to progress work to support this duty through its equality outcome on inclusive communication. This will include working in partnership with other public bodies, stakeholders, and people with lived experience, to co-produce a set of national standards and a robust monitoring system. Best practice guidance and shared resources for public bodies on inclusive communication will also be prepared.
5.2 Question 2.1 – Inclusive Communication
What are your views on our proposal to place a duty on listed authorities to embed inclusive communication proportionately across their work?
Almost all respondents answered Question 2.1 (97%).
5.2.1 Respondents who support the proposal
Most respondents express support in principle for the proposal to place a duty on listed authorities to embed inclusive communication proportionately across their work. The main themes to emerge from these consultation responses are outlined below.
Theme 1: Recognition of the importance/value of inclusive communication
Many of the consultation responses in support of the proposal acknowledge that accessible communication is already a legal requirement, and that inclusive communication extends beyond the protected characteristic of disability, which is said to have been the primary focus for listed authorities when they are communicating with the public. Further, many listed authorities note that the proposal complements their existing work in providing inclusive communication.
These respondents also commonly note in their consultation responses:
- The benefits of inclusive communication (e.g. improving accessibility, reducing barriers, increasing participation, promoting inclusion).
- That the proposal could help listed authorities to drive improvements and build on their existing commitment towards more inclusive communication.
- That a set of national standards and parameters would increase accountability, encourage compliance, and improve consistency across listed authorities.
- The proposal could help inclusive communication to be more fully embedded in how listed authorities do business.
Theme 2: Broad support for the proposed solutions
There is clear support expressed within most consultation responses for the proposed solutions specified in the Consultation Paper to ensure inclusive communication is embedded proportionately across the work of listed authorities when they are communicating with the public.
Theme 3: Awareness raising, guidance and training
Many respondents agree that the Scottish Government should provide improved, clear, and user-friendly guidance and supporting documentation at an early stage to listed authorities, including with regards to the requirement to report on how the duty has been met.
Respondents also note the need for effective monitoring procedures to ensure that listed authorities can comply with a new duty on inclusive communication. These respondents welcome the commitment of the Scottish Government to work "in partnership with other public bodies, stakeholders and people with lived experience, to co-produce a set of national standards and a robust monitoring system". Additional feedback from respondents highlights flexibility as being important in order "to account for this potential breadth of activities, and the fact that some listed authorities deliver particularly specialist services".
A national approach to capacity building and training would be welcomed by respondents.
"…to be truly inclusive, we must ensure that that staff working for these bodies have the skills and knowledge to communicate inclusively on an individual level whether that is face to face, through written communication, on the phone or via virtual methods".
The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists
Theme 4: Co-production
Another common theme (e.g. among equality advocacy groups) is the need for continued "two-way dialogue with stakeholders" and that "co-production must be meaningful, embedded from the outset, and extend beyond a tokenistic gesture". These respondents note that further consultation undertaken by the Scottish Government should involve a range of stakeholders, including people with lived experience, subject matter experts, and third sector organisations. It is suggested that such an approach would ensure that the views of everyone, including those who understand and express themselves in different ways, are understood when "common principles" are identified (i.e. there are likely to be a wide range of communication and language needs and preferences). These respondents also note that it would be essential that listed authorities have the "relevant competence and capacity to respond to these needs".
5.2.2 Respondents who highlight issues or concerns
While the Scottish Government proposal on inclusive communication is viewed positively among respondents, most also highlight issues or concerns they have with the proposal to place a duty on listed authorities to embed inclusive communication proportionately across their work. The main themes to emerge from these consultation responses are outlined below.
Theme 1: Additional financial challenge
Many respondents (e.g. listed authorities) consider that the proposal to embed inclusive communication proportionately across their work could be expensive to implement and could present an additional financial challenge to public bodies – "at a time when both staffing and finances are under significant pressure". The dissemination of examples of cost-effective ways to communicate inclusively are considered important by these respondents, as is access to shared resources to reduce potential costs and duplication of effort.
The consensus among these respondents is that:
- Implementation of the proposal could have a significant impact on organisation resources (i.e. costs, capacity, resourcing, training, timing, and practicality).
- Listed authorities would need to be adequately supported/resourced to meet the duty.
"Accessible information and inclusive processes should be prioritised across listed authorities and resourced for accordingly as a core part of budget plans, rather than an 'extra cost' or afterthought".
The Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland (The ALLIANCE)
"The Council agrees in principle but it should be acknowledged and built into any embedding the additional staffing and funding costs which should be met by the Scottish Government fully as part of this work to take account of both the duty to deliver and the duty to report back on that delivery…..It would be desirable if the national group of senior communications managers or heads of communications across the 32 Councils were tasked, supported by COSLA communications, to identify the level of resources and reporting required to support this process and to provide oversight and expert input".
Theme 2: Capacity constraints within listed authorities
Capacity and resourcing are identified by many respondents as barriers that currently exist in relation to embedding the use of inclusive communication, as are the timing and practicality of providing inclusive communications. A related point made by listed authorities is that the Scottish Government would need to allow reasonable time for awareness-raising and skills development before this duty comes into force, and a realistic timeframe to implement any new standards.
Theme 3: Use of the term proportionality with the proposal
Most respondents, including listed authorities, hold the view that any emerging duty should be proportionate and avoid placing an undue burden on listed authorities, especially smaller authorities.
On the other hand, some equality advocacy groups do not agree with the proposed inclusion of the term 'proportionality' within the Scottish Government proposal, as further described below.
Inclusion Scotland provides details of its recent experience of the National Care Service consultation. The equality advocacy group notes in its response that Easy Read versions of the consultation documents were not provided at the start of the consultation period despite the content of the consultation having a clear impact on disabled people, including those who required an Easy Read version. They also point to the example of the Supreme Court findings on the National Disability Strategy consultation (UK Government) case.
"This demonstrates the need for additional PSED regulation. Whilst providing reasonable adjustments is already a duty in the Equality Act, the PSED needs to go further to ensure that individuals are not relying on knowing what to do, who to ask and waiting for a response".
Others (e.g. Scottish Women's Budget Group) suggest that the term 'proportionately' could be replaced in word and intent with 'proactively'.
Theme 4: Availability and capacity of specialist service providers
Several respondents note that their organisation faces challenges in procuring specialist contractors/suppliers at certain times to help with their inclusive communication activity. Translation and interpretation services are often referred to in the consultation responses. These respondents identify a current shortage of, or a lack of availability of, specialist suppliers across the country and raise a concern that the proposal outlined in the Consultation Paper could result in increased demand for such services. Some also feel that lessons could be learnt from the introduction of the British Sign Language (BSL) Act/ BSL Plans.
There is also recognition across some consultation responses that the duty could result in increased demand on third sector organisations who provide communication support services (e.g. converting information into various accessible formats, such as Braille, BSL, and Easy Read).
Respondents express support for the Scottish Government to explore opportunities for "one central resource, including a shared hub for translation recognising lack of available suppliers".
5.2.3 Respondents who do not support the proposal
There was limited explicit feedback from respondents who indicate that they do not support the proposal to place a duty on listed authorities to embed inclusive communication proportionately across their work. The themes to emerge from these consultation responses are outlined below.
Theme 1: Increased guidance may be more effective
A few respondents (e.g. some listed authorities), while supportive of improving inclusive communication and the solutions proposed by the Scottish Government, note the following points.
"We feel increased guidance and access to required resources to implement inclusive communication would be more effective than a duty at this stage".
South Ayrshire Council
"If a duty is required then it should be in line with other legislative requirements such as the BSL Act 2005 to ensure that there is harmony between legislation and not another layer of bureaucracy".
East Ayrshire Council/East Ayrshire Health and Social Care Partnership
5.2.4 Further clarification of the proposal requested
Most respondents request further clarity on the proposal that seeks to ensure inclusive communication is embedded proportionately across the work of listed authorities when they are communicating with the public. These respondents commonly ask for:
- Further detail on the scope and exact requirements of the proposed regulation and how it would apply in practice - "not all public bodies function in the same way, nor do they necessarily communicate with the same people/community/business demographics and shared resources need to recognise regional and local variations".
- A clear definition of terms used in the proposal, including 'accessible' and 'inclusive' communication, to ensure a common and shared understanding of what these mean in practice. Further, a question raised by some respondents is whether the Scottish Government intends to use the same definition of 'communicating in an inclusive way' within PSED as it does in three other Acts of the Scottish Parliament.
- A definition of what 'proportionate' means in the context of inclusive communication.
- Clarification on how the proposal is different to, or overlaps with, existing duties under the Equality Act 2010 in relation to 'reasonable adjustments'.
- Clarification on how the proposal will relate to/align with/join up with other legislation (e.g. BSL (Scotland) Act 2015, Social Security Act, Public Protection Act).
- Best practice guidance and shared resources on inclusive communication in advance of listed authorities being subject to the duty to minimise cost and duplication of effort, and to help embed a more inclusive approach to communications.
- Lessons learned on inclusive communications during COVID-19 to be shared widely and for lessons to inform the development of guidance and shared resources.
- Clarification on whether the duty is primarily focused on one-way communications (or 'transmission') or if it is broader and covers engagement (e.g. two-way 'conversation' communications).
- That more definitive timeframes for implementation could be specified rather than making sure accessible formats are available "within a reasonable timeframe".
- More information on the proposed 'centralised translation' service.
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