The authority, therefore, had dual needs: to cover HR practitioner vacancies but also to reinvigorate their E&D development activities. The authority was aware that we could provide a consultant who not only had extensive HR experience, at a strategic and political level, in a local authority but who also had a track record in delivering E&D policies, processes and schemes.
Legislation places significant responsibilities on public sector bodies – far more than those of private sector and voluntary sector organisations. The expectation of Government is that the public sector should be equality exemplars both as employers and commissioners and deliverers of services. As such, the universal requirement not to discriminate is extended in the public sector, in the broad, to working to eliminate discrimination, promoting equality of opportunity and promoting good relations between and within the various protected groups.
We started in August 2008 and, at the outset, we established that what expertise the authority had in E&D rested with one of the HR staff who was leaving. They were clear that the focus for E&D should come through their HR team but we found that their level of awareness and understanding of the necessary detail needed to be raised. The authority had taken care to assign accountability for E&D to one of its strategic directors to demonstrate the significance that the authority wanted to attach to the subject but that was not his area of professional expertise.
The assignment required an initial focus on mainstream HR work but with the authority planning to fill vacancies by the start of the New Year. We began the equality work quietly by conducting a gap analysis taking the Equality Standard for Local Government as the benchmark. The authority had not advanced beyond the entry Level 1 (expressing commitments) of the five levels of the Standard. The analysis confirmed that there was much to be done so we looked for the things that would have the greatest impacts in closing the gaps but that would also engage the staff. Two things emerged:
First, the conducting of (screening) equality impact assessments. The authority had barely got off the ground with this activity which was a clear gap against their statutory duties. They had assigned responsibility for the work to individuals across all service areas but those individuals needed direction and guidance to get the job done. We gathered these individuals into a group, provided the direction and gave positive feedback to their tentative beginnings with the aim of opening their minds to potential issues and getting them to think creatively about solutions.
Second, getting the HR house in order. With HR leading on E&D across the Council, it was critical that they should ‘role model’ equality and have in place HR policies, procedures and practices that would deliver equality of opportunity in employment. Involving the HR team, we:
- Carried out equality impact assessments on all the HR functions.
- Reviewed and updated all the HR activities to reflect best E&D practice and legislation.
- Introduced wider staff monitoring arrangements that picked up all the equality strands.
This had the effect of galvanising the authority and, in the New Year, the Management Team took the decision to make resources available for E&D work.
They drew the sensible conclusion that they needed specialist expertise inside and outside the Council. Our newly established knowledge of the authority and the absence of an internal expert gave us the inside role of project managing the work and we led in drawing up the specification for particular external advice and then engaging the services of another specialist.
The engagement of the specialist coincided with the strong likelihood that the authority would be publicly criticised for not having advanced beyond Level 1 of the Equality Standard. That position was totally inconsistent with the authority having been judge as ‘excellent’ under the (former) CPA inspection regime. At a meeting at the end of April with the Chief Executive and the lead Strategic Director, we, together with the other specialist, accepted the challenge of getting the authority from Level 1 to Level 3 of the Standard.
What We Achieved and Our Thoughts on the Assignment
The Chief Executive’s challenge was a daunting one. The task of achieving Level 3:
- Required external validation.
- Was time limited and had to be completed, including the validation stage, before 30th September. This was due to the Standard being replaced at that date with a new Equality Framework for Local Government.
- Meant taking two steps up the Standard in one go.
The equality and diversity work that we had carried out prior to this decision was critical to the success of the project. Working hand-in-hand with the external specialist and guiding the internal project team, which included the Strategic Director and the Head of HR, we developed and implemented:
- A Level 3 Action Plan.
- A Single Equality Scheme for consultation.
- Wider and more in-depth monitoring arrangements.
- Consultation mechanisms.
We led in briefing staff from all service areas, including operative staff, and Councillors on what was going on and what they needed to do to support that activity to ensure that there were no surprises and to ensure that everyone was aware of their role.
With this approach we achieved the target of external validation at Level 3 within less than 5 months. We played a pivotal role in this achievement in managing the involvement of the external specialist, directing the internal project team and providing first hand advice and guidance to the lead director and the corporate Management Team as well as Councillors.
Quote Feedback From the Client
Head of HR
.... Richard Wood from Touchstone Renard was a fantastic addition to the team and brought calm reassurance and extensive knowledge to the challenging task. His senior experience meant that he needed little direction and supervision so every hour of his time was adding value. Without his support we would not have been able to achieve Level 3 of the Equality Standard.
Please Contact Us
Touchstone Renard has a strong team of highly skilled consultants with a wealth of experience in supporting local authorities, housing associations and the public sector in general.
If you would like to receive further details of our capabilities or you would welcome a discussion on how Touchstone Renard can assist with solutions for your organisation, please contact Richard Wood, Director of HR & business Services, on:
- Tel: +44 (0)203 954 2576.
- Mobile: +44 (0)7713 621005.