Leadership and commitment provided at the highest levels in a public authority, by the Minister and Permanent Secretary or the Chair and Chief Executive, are critical to the successful implementation and achievement of the intended outcomes of the Section 75 duties. The role of Management Boards and Senior Management Teams are also essential in ensuring that a meaningful and effective approach to implementing the Section 75 duties is adopted across the organisation.
Leaders should ensure that consideration of the Section 75 duties is integrated throughout all the public authority’s functions. In addition to ensuring that its legal requirements are met, this should complement its outcomes based accountability approach, assisting it to focus on improving the outcomes for its service users and employees.
A public authority should be in a position to openly demonstrate its compliance with all of the commitments in its Equality Scheme and that it is paying the appropriate level of regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity and the desirability of promoting good relations. Demonstration of such commitments by a public authority and individual decision-makers may be required in instances where individuals complain that the authority has failed to comply with its Equality Scheme; where the Equality Commission is conducting an investigation; or, indeed, in the circumstances of a Judicial Review.
Acting on the evidence of public authority practices
The Equality Commission’s report 'Acting on the evidence of public authority practices
' (July 2018)
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.
Public authorities need to consider equality in all aspects of their organisation. This includes how they plan and deliver a service, to policies on employing people, enforcing the law, buying services, approving budgets and regulating others.
Integrating equal opportunity principles and practices from the outset ensures that equality considerations are mainstreamed and built into the policy development process from the beginning, rather than being bolted on at the end. Mainstreaming can help improve methods of working by increasing a public authority’s accountability, responsiveness to need and relations with the public.
Section 75 requires public authorities to have due regard for the need to promote equality of opportunity between:
- persons of different religious belief, political opinion, racial group, age, marital status or sexual orientation
- men and women generally
- persons with a disability and persons without
- persons with dependants and persons without
The promotion of equality of opportunity entails more than the elimination of discrimination. It requires proactive action to promote equality of opportunity and encourages public authorities to take action to address inequality among the groups listed above.
Public authorities must also have regard for the desirability of promoting good relations between persons of different religious belief, political opinion or racial group. The Commission emphasises that the good relations duty embraces and extends beyond the religious / political dimension of ‘community relations’. Consideration of the needs and interests of all minority ethnic groups is also important in this context. Public authorities must recognise the inter-dependence of equality and good relations.
It should be noted that both duties have to be discharged in all circumstances.