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New Public Sector Equality Duty Consultation launched

The Government Equalities Office (GEO) has set out its proposals for the new single Equality Duty, which will require public bodies to tackle discrimination and advance equality of opportunity, including reporting annually on their gender pay gap and considering using procurement to drive equality.

The Equality Duty, a key part of the Equality Bill introduced in April, will build on the existing gender, race, and disability duties, and extend it to also cover age, sexual orientation, gender reassignment in full, and religion or belief. The Duty requires public bodies to consider how their spending decisions, employment practices, and services they provide affect people from these groups. It moves away from a prescriptive tick-box approach to give public bodies more flexibility and innovation in delivering equality for people.

Ministers made it clear in April that public bodies should use procurement to help drive equality: the public sector spends £175 billion every year buying goods and services. Today's consultation document proposes that contracting authorities should:

* Consider using equality criteria when awarding contracts, for example requiring firms bidding for a diversity training contract to report the proportion of black or minority ethnic people they employ;
* Stipulate equality contract conditions where relevant and proportionate, for example, an agency managing the recruitment process for a contracting authority might be required to advertise all vacancies with part-time or flexible working options.
* Set out how they intend to use procurement to drive equality.

The Equality Duty will also require public bodies with 150 or more employees to report annually on their gender pay gap; black and minority ethnic employment rates; and their disability employment rates. This will shine a light on inequality, identify problem areas, help track progress, and allow similar bodies to be benchmarked and compared.

Vera Baird, Solicitor General and Equality Bill Lead Minister, said:
"Society is better when it's equal. It's about getting the best out of everybody, whatever characteristics they have.

"The existing equality duties have triggered a culture change. The new single Equality Duty will build on this to embed equality in the heart of public bodies: driving a more personalised approach, with services tailored to meet the needs of different groups and tackle the disadvantage they may face.

"The Government is committed to creating a more equal society with fair chances for everyone, that's why we have this new Equality Duty, and why we have our tough new Equality Bill, which will clarify and strengthen the law."

Other proposals set out in today's consultation document include requiring public authorities to:

* Publish equality objectives and set out how they intend to achieve them, reporting annually on progress against these objectives;
* Show how they've considered equality when thinking about service delivery and designing policy;
* Involve employees, service users and other relevant groups.

Examples of what public authorities could do as a result of the Equality Duty:

* A town planner might decide to use drop-down kerbs and accessible public toilets for wheelchair users.
* A council might provide extra park benches in local parks, so that older people can benefit from public spaces as well as younger people.
* A local authority looking for a provider of 'meals on wheels' that delivers culturally diverse food, including Kosher and Halal meals.

Authorities will not be required to publish a separate equality scheme; instead objectives, action to be taken and results should be developed as part of an organisation's core business planning and reported on in normal business processes, such as annual reports or school profiles.

Enforcement of the new Equality Duty will be by judicial review or through the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

The aim is for the new Equality Duty to come into force in April 2011. This will allow time for the public sector and business to prepare, and for the Equality and Human Rights Commission and others to provide comprehensive guidance.

The consultation runs until September 2009. More details are at: http://www.equalities.gov.uk

Ends

posted by Asif Yusuf

 

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