The Leader of the Council submitted a report that invited Members to review the draft strategy and provide comments before formal consultation with key partners was undertaken in June and the draft strategy was considered by the Executive on 6 July before being proposed for adoption by Council on 28July.
The Head of Communication, Strategy and Policy gave a background presentation in respect of East and Equal, a strategy for equalities, diversity and inclusion. He said that the newly appointed Equality and Diversity Officer had joined the Council in November 2020 for 2 days a week.
Members were advised that the first task for the new Officer was the creation of an equalities, diversity and inclusions strategy. The Head of Communications, Strategy and Policy said that the new strategy was to ensure that the Council could evidence that it was meeting the requirements set out in the Equality Act 2010 in terms of making reasonable adjustments in service delivery.
Members were advised of a number of moral and ethical considerations including the recent Black Lives Matter activity and the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on communities with protected characteristics such as people from ethnic groups who were particularly vulnerable.
The Head of Communications Strategy and Policy talked about the work that the Equality and Diversity Officer had carried out to establish where the Council was before drafting a set of priorities and actions. He said that once feedback had been received from Members, a formal consultation or generic survey would be carried out and the issue would be submitted to the Executive on 6 July and then to Council for adoption on the 28 July 2021.
The Equality and Diversity Officer explained why the strategy was needed by the Council. She referred to the public sector equality duty need and the opportunity for the Council to demonstrate its vision and challenges.
Members were provided with an overview of the timeline and were given an explanation of the strategy that was to be known as “East and Equal”. The Equality and Diversity Officer said that she had combined the “SEED” priorities in the Council’s Corporate Plan with the Local Government Association framework to produce the acronym of respond, relate and reach out.
Members were presented with an overview of the demographics of East Herts and the Officer touched on work that had been carried out such as focussed workshops on engaging with young people. She said that East Herts Council did not know enough about the issues facing some hard to reach groups and more consultation was needed.
Members were advised that a key priority was to improve the methods by which the Council gathered and analysed data in order to improve decision making. The Officer said another priority was to strengthen the equality impact assessment process.
The Officer explained that the relate value was a combination of leadership and organisational development to ensure that the Senior Members and the Executive could embed equality initiatives within East Hertfordshire District Council in order to achieve a diverse and engaged workforce.
Members were advised that the Council did not know enough about hard to reach groups within the community. The Officer explained that there had been specific examples of focussed work and she said the Council needed to be proactively engaging with different demographics and undertaking consultation. She set out a number of planned actions including a staff survey and developing a staff network that championed diversity.
The Equality and Diversity Officer explained that relate phased digital by design in line with the Council’s corporate “SEED” plan. She said that the strategy aspired to ensure integrity by the Council practising its values so that Officers could accurately and fairly relate to communities. Members were advised that a priority was to maximise joint working and improving self-awareness of equality and diversity.
The Equality and Diversity Officer set out a number of priorities and actions she would like to be carried out in respect of the ‘relate’ element. She said that the reach out element looked at the widespread inequalities that had been highlighted by Covid-19. She also commented on how tensions with gypsy and traveller communities could be addressed and she advised that residents felt that East Herts Council could do more to promote equalities work.
The Equality and Diversity Officer set out a number of key priorities and actions and highlighted the importance of involving residents in the work that was carried out by East Herts Council in respect of equalities. Members were advised of the work that had been done by the County Council with the BAME network.
The Officer talked about a number of discussion points following the Member Information Sessions and she invited Members to ask questions. Councillor Bell commented on the appendix to the report and she believed that there was a much wider population within East Herts that would identify as disabled but might not necessarily be in receipt of benefits. She also asked whether a heading in this Appendix could be amended to include a reference to people with long term chronic health conditions who might not necessarily identify as disabled.
Councillor Curtis referred to the challenges faced by autistic people and wondered what engagement could be undertaken with the National Autistic Society to make the services provided by East Herts, as much as possible “autistic proof”. He also commented on how the Council could reach out to other minority groups in East Herts.
Councillor Drake referred to page 7 of the strategy report and the bespoke training on unconscious bias and providing safe spaces and she commented on whether training could be made mandatory for Officers to enable staff to reflect on what they had learned.
Councillor Snowdon asked for some clarity on the remit of the BAME network at Hertfordshire County Council. The Equality and Diversity Officer provided some clarity on the operation of this network. Councillor Goldspink said she was pleased to see the proposed training on unconscious bias and the planned reconvening of the staff network in respect of equalities.
The Equality and Diversity Officer agreed with many of the points that had been made by Members and she responded with her thoughts on some of the points that had been raised.
Councillor Drake proposed, and Councillor Ward-Booth seconded, a motion that the recommendations as detailed in the report be approved. After being put to the meeting and a vote taken, the motion was declared CARRIED.
RESOLVED – that (A) the Draft Equalities, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy be reviewed; and
(B) the comments of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee be forwarded to the Executive for their consideration.