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Section 75: Acting on the evidence

Statutory Equality & Good Relations Duties

What you need to know

 
Acting on the evidence of public authority practices: implementing S75 equality and good relations duties

S75 Acting on evidenceThe Equality Commission’s report “Acting on the evidence of public authority practices” identifies a number of issues which it believes are fundamental to the effective implementation of the Section 75 duties by public authorities and presents recommendations which will help them to fulfil their statutory equality and good relations duties.

It is clear that cultural and institutional change is required to fully embed the legislative requirements, and to ensure a focus on the impacts and consequences of policies and decisions on the lives of people in Northern Ireland.

We have highlighted leadership, in particular, as core to the effective delivery of the statutory equality and good relations duties.  We are fully committed to engaging with leaders across the public sector to encourage renewed focus on such delivery.

The following issues have been presented to and discussed with a range of stakeholders; and the Commission is already addressing them through its advisory work.

Issues identified in public authorities’ implementation of the Section 75 duties

  • Leadership. While recognising the circumstances of reduced resources, leadership continues to be imperative within public authorities to ensure the maintained focus on equality matters, as well as ensuring good governance and  the mainstreaming of equality considerations throughout the business of the authority.
  • Ownership.  The evidence, and our experience in providing advice, suggests that public authorities do not, in all instances, see the purpose of having an Equality Scheme as assisting in fulfilling their statutory equality and good relations duties. 
  • Understanding and/or misinterpreting the purpose and scope of the duties.  The evidence clearly suggests that Equality Schemes continue to be seen by public authorities as processes in themselves; they are not seen as contributing equality of opportunity and good relations considerations to decision making.
  • The evidence also suggests there are different understandings of, or expectations of, what is required in fulfilling the duties (i.e. to have “due regard/regard to….”) amongst different stakeholders.
  • Definitions of key terms and expectations.  It remains the case, reflected in the evidence of practice, that there is an issue in the continuing differences among stakeholders in what is understood by the terms “equality of opportunity” and “good relations”.
  • Transparency and accountability.  The evidence suggests that some public authority practices have moved away from engagement and consultation informing their equality assessments, limiting opportunities for stakeholder involvement in decision making through use of the Equality Scheme processes.  In addition, public authorities present limited information in their equality assessments when using screening templates.
  • Data development.  Equality Scheme commitments have not driven a data development agenda in the public sector, despite the requirements in Schedule 9 for particular monitoring arrangements and the Commission’s longstanding advice.
  • Accountability and risk.  Evidence suggests that the perceived risks of not fulfilling the statutory equality and good relations duties, and/or non-compliance, are probably small. 
 

Issues identified in the Commission’s powers and duties in Schedule 9 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998

  • Complaints.  There are specific requirements on the Commission in relation to complaints.  The range and nature of complaints to the Commission has consistently reflected particular issues on policies and practices that are of concern to the complainant, which are not always clearly associated with what Equality Scheme arrangements provide for.
  • Investigations are adversarial, given the statutory requirement that they are considered in relation to a belief of non-compliance by a public authority with an equality scheme.  They have mostly been driven by particular circumstances.  They have provided some learning for public authority practices, but can be limited in the ripple effect of the findings, particularly when arising from a paragraph 10 complaint.
 

Equality Commission recommendations

The Commission recommends to public authorities that:
 

  • public authority leaders make clear the necessity of fulfilling the duties throughout their organisation – that they continue to be a statutory requirement;
  • senior leaders and decision-makers in organisations actively request the evidence from equality assessments, as well as routinely seek assurance within their organisations that they are fulfilling the duties to have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity and regard to the desirability of promoting good relations;
  • those responsible for providing information for decision-making on a function or policy should ensure they provide sufficient information, from their equality assessments, for the appropriate consideration (i.e. due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity and regard to the desirability of promoting good relations) to be given in particular decisions;
  • the importance of the statutory equality and good relations duties are highlighted within the organisation, on a continuing basis, and particularly given the current wider political and economic context;
  • the shift of focus from process to outcomes should continue.  Equality Schemes are to enable public authorities to fulfil the Section 75 duties – to give the appropriate consideration to the need to promote equality of opportunity and desirability of promoting good relations - when they deliver their functions.  Through giving the appropriate consideration, a public authority will ensure that the decisions they take will be mindful of “the consequences on the lives of people” ; and
  • they ensure their consideration of the need to promote equality of opportunity, and desirability of promoting good relations, is evidence based and the data is available to support the consideration. There is a clear link between the consideration needed to meet the Section 75 duties and the data development agenda that is required for the Outcomes Based Accountability approach to the draft Programme for Government.  This should drive the collection and use of equality data.
 

Actions for the Equality Commission NI

The Commission has identified a number of actions that it will undertake in support of these recommendations:
 
  • In its leadership role, the Commission will engage specifically with politicians, senior leaders in public authorities and decision makers to remind them of their roles and responsibilities in ensuring these statutory duties are fulfilled.
  • The Commission will set the agenda and debate in highlighting the importance of the duties and their continuing relevance to, and assistance in the development of, public policy and service delivery in Northern Ireland.
  • The Commission will convey and communicate one of the most important issues and success factors – leadership.   While recognising the circumstances of reduced resources, leadership continues to be imperative within public authorities to ensure the maintained focus on equality matters, as well as the mainstreaming of equality considerations throughout the business of the authority.
  • The Commission will continue to prioritise its advisory activities on public authority practices in screening and Equality Impact Assessment (EQIA), as set out in the 2018-19 Business Plan.  This will ensure that these central methodologies are used to greatest effect by public authorities in consistently providing meaningful equality assessments of the policy objectives and policy goals under consideration at any given time.
  • The Commission will use the issues identified in this report and review its approach to investigations generally, as set out in the 2018-19 Business Plan.
  • The Commission will collate and publish the Commission’s evidence base on and recommendations relating to equality data and gaps for the draft Programme for Government, as set out in the 2018-19 Business Plan.

The Commission will continue to engage with and work in partnership with stakeholders who have an interest in relation to ensuring that public authorities are fulfilling their statutory equality and good relations duties, as required by Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.
 
 

Download the recommendations in full:
 
Our recommendations have been drawn from detailed consideration of evidence gathered; the Commission’s understanding from experience in advising public authorities and others; the Commission’s understanding of the wider political and economic context for public services in Northern Ireland; and other sources such as from the use of our investigation powers.

A number of reviews commissioned during the period; analysis of other research and relevant sources that are referenced in this report, as well as stakeholder engagement, have also contributed.  

Consultation
The draft of this report was consulted upon in late 2017, with comments received from a range of stakeholders. Consultees confirmed the issues identified and made a number of comments which have been considered and incorporated, as appropriate, in this report:
 
The full range of 'Section 75 review and consultation' publications are available online

If you would like further information or information in an alternative format, please contact us:
 



 

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