Latest Public Sector News

01.02.12

Representing Liverpool's population

Source: Public Sector Executive Jan/Feb 12

Cllr Louise Baldock discusses Liverpool City Council’s new Single Equality Scheme, and why understanding the people of the city is key to providing quality services.

Liverpool City Council has recently published its new Single Equality Scheme (SES), detailing how it intends to manage inequality, ensure it represents the city’s diverse population, and offer relevant support to those at risk of discrimination.

Cllr Louise Baldock talked to PSE about the new action plan, developed to ensure the council has an accurate picture of representation within the city.

She stated: “There is a public sector duty to consider how, as an authority, we will uphold equality and diversity and concentrate on community cohesion and publish data and so on.”

The council uses independent assessments like the Stonewall framework to check its progress and understand where it can improve. Baldock explained: “Their last report said we were on the road to ‘excellent’ but we weren’t there yet. They came up with a number of suggestions for ways in which we could improve and we have been working on how we can do more in those areas they highlighted.”

The scheme is currently under consultation, with community groups and individuals encouraged to respond with their comments and suggestions. These will then be considered, with the possibility of amending the scheme if necessary.

A personal response is planned for each person who contributes to the consultation, detailing how their response was dealt with. Baldock added: “It doesn’t happen very often that way; you tend to send off your response and never hear from anybody again. We want people to know that if we ask them for their views we are actually going to take some notice of them.”

Protected characteristics

Gathering and publishing data about council employees and the current profile of the workforce is “vitally important”, Baldock said, as “you don’t know what improvements you need to make or what services you need to offer your staff if you don’t know what kind of representation you’ve got”.

Baldock suggested that having a low proportion of certain protected characteris- tics, such as those at risk of discrimination due to age, disability, ethnicity, gender or sexuality, could prompt the council to consider whether there was anything about their management that was deterring that group. Additionally it means that certain policies need to be implemented in order to provide the best working conditions for those people.

She said: “All of those things will benefit anybody with protected characteristics, as well as the general population. Everybody is a protected characteristic, because everybody’s got an age and everybody’s got a gender.”

Resourcing action

Challenges in implementing the action plan include the limited ability to respond to data that demonstrates lack of representation. Baldock stated that even if the profile showed they weren’t representative in certain characteristics, the council is not currently in a position to run recruitment campaigns or offer promotions to alleviate this.

“The biggest difficulty we have as a city is our ever decreasing resources,” she said. “As the most deprived city in the country, we’ve had the biggest amount of cuts; the Government’s own figures show there’s been more money cut out of Liverpool’s local budget than anywhere, percentage wise. There are always challenges about how you can do things with fewer staff.

“Once we understand and recognise what our profile is then we’ll need to think about long term plans to balance and improve some of those situations,” she added.

Measure of success

Some of the targets in the SES appear to be difficult to quantify, such as ‘improved social cohesion’, but Baldock said: “It is and it isn’t,” explaining that the council works with several partners to examine wider issues that contribute to social cohesion, including hate crime and whether this is well reported and prosecuted in the city.

This means that there is plenty of information with which to judge the level of more abstract concepts.

Baldock continued: “Are particular groups looking more or less vulnerable? We get a lot of data and information and pick up things like general unrest. We haven’t had race riots. That’s a negative observation, where things haven’t happened.

“We can point to events and cultural activities in the city that would help us to say whether we have community cohesion or not. Some things are observational or a little bit trickier to assess than hard statistics but I think you know when you’ve got things badly wrong because it becomes pretty apparent.”

Baldock acknowledged that public perceptions about action on diversity can be misguided, joking that “it’s not about giving grants to black, disabled, lesbian netball players”. But she added: “It’s about understanding who lives in our city and who works for our council, and whether everybody’s being properly represented in all of those areas and if we’re delivering good services for those people.”

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