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Section 75 consultation

Statutory Equality & Good Relations Duties

What you need to know

 
Acting on the evidence of public authority practices

Section 75The Equality Commission has a considerable body of evidence available on the operation of the Schedule 9 requirements of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.  The Schedule 9 requirements are there to enable public authorities to fulfil their statutory equality and good relations duties set out in Section 75, and to enable enforcement of those duties.

Our consultation report sets out the evidence that the Commission considered during the course of the 2016-17 business year which presented a picture of how the duties are being implemented by public authorities.

As a result of examining public authority practices, the Commission is concerned about the effective implementation of the Section 75 duties by public authorities. The Commission has identified a number of issues from this, which it believes are fundamental to the effective implementation of the duties by public authorities.

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 requirements of Schedule 9 provide for a model for the duties described as “responsive” (in the context of legislation and regulation that can be reflexive and/or responsive) .  The evidence also suggests  that some public authority practices have moved away from the responsive approach , with limited opportunities for stakeholder involvement in decision making through use of the Equality Scheme processes, and limited information presented in assessments when public authorities present equality assessments as 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

 

  • 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:
 

  • senior leaders and decision-makers in organisations 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 restated, given the wider political and economic context, as well as reconfirming the necessity of fulfilling the duties within the organisation – they continue to be a statutory requirement;
  • 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.
 

Proposed actions

The Commission has identified a number of actions that it proposes in support of these recommendations:

  • To 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.
  • To engage specifically with politicians, senior leaders in public authorities and decision makers to re-confirm their roles and responsibilities.
  • To 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.
  • To prioritise its advisory activities on public authority practices in screening and Equality Impact Assessment (EQIA), to 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.
  • To use the issues identified in this report and review its approach to investigations generally in the forthcoming period.

The Commission will continue to engage with all stakeholders with roles to play with respect to ensuring that public authorities are fulfilling their statutory equality and good relations duties in Section 75.
 
 

Your comments and response to this consultation report

The Commission would welcome comments, particularly on the issues identified, recommendations and proposed actions associated to them. We would welcome your views on this report on or before Wednesday 31 January 2018. 
 


If you would like any further information, information in an alternative format, or to submit your response, please contact us, as follows:
 

Section 75 Consultation
Equality Commission for Northern Ireland
Equality House
Shaftsbury Square
Belfast  BT2 7DP

Email: section75@equalityni.org
Telephone: 028 9050 0600



 

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