To receive an overview from Councillor Alice Macdonald, Cabinet Member for Equalities and Communities on the review of approach to equality and adoption of the Equality Framework which is due to be considered by Cabinet on 9 March 2021.
The cabinet member for equalities and communities has also been asked to provide:
· A written overview of the main council equalities initiatives, including Southwark’s Equalities Framework; Southwark’s Equalities and Diversity Charter; the refreshes to Southwark’s approach to equalities impact assessments and community impact assessments.
· An update on plans for better understanding racial disparities in the Council and beyond.
· How the council is addressing the many equalities related issues arising due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The commission heard from Councillor Alice Macdonald, Cabinet Member for Communities, Equalities and Neighbourhoods, Stephen Douglas, Director of Communities, Jasbinder Baddhan, Equalities, Diversity and Inclusion Programme Lead and Suganya Naveenan, Equalities and Inclusion Lead Officer.
Councillor Macdonald provided the commission with a brief overview of the cabinet portfolio areas relevant to equalities that were within her remit, including the overall approach to equalities, putting in place the framework and embedding equalities in everything the council does, community engagement, relationship with the voluntary and community sector, volunteering, community grants, the neighbourhood approach building on the social regeneration charter, responsibility for protected groups including LGBT+ community and women’s rights, digital and financial inclusion and customer servers, ensuring that public facing services are accessible to all.
Councillor Macdonald explained that the Southwark Stands Together came under the Leader of the Council’s portfolio and that Workforce came within the portfolio of the Cabinet Member for Finance, Business and Jobs so the implementation of the workforce equalities priorities came under that remit. Councillor Macdonald stressed that equalities was everyone’s responsibility and that it had to cut across all work.
Councillor Macdonald advised that some of the fundamentals to the approach on equalities were:
· Understanding what the inequalities are and what is causing them (to support this a lot of work was going into collecting and analysing data).
· Strong equality approach throughout the Borough Plan including clear specific inequality policies, such as increasing representation in community leadership positions, guaranteeing access to education and employment for every school leaver, tackling health inequalities and food insecurity.
· A strong framework to ensure that the council has the rigour and the right tools to analyse, monitor and address what the data is showing.
· How the council approaches equalities, i.e. with kindness, understanding and sensitivity
Councillor Macdonald reported that the refreshed equalities framework would be considered by cabinet in June, this would take account of the work being undertaken through Southwark Stands Together. Councillor Macdonald indicated that she welcomed input from scrutiny as well as other stakeholders, including staff and the forum for equality and human rights. Some key principles would be revised tools for implementation, along with strengthened equality governance – other models across London were being looked at.
An equality audit of all council services was also being proposed for later in the year.
In relation to tackling racial disparities, a review of the grants programme was being undertaken to make sure that the council was supporting Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities and to identify any barriers.
There was also focus on the community support alliance and digital exclusion. In respect of digital exclusion, there had been close working with the Education department in getting laptops to children for learning. Councillor Macdonald’s particular focus was on working with broadband providers to get free internet connections. A commitment for 500 connections had been obtained.
There was work being undertaken with the public health team, including looking at how to address vaccine hesitancy.
Following the cabinet members address, questions and discussion were held around the following areas:
· Whether there had been any work centred around air quality/pollution and impact on BAME communities
· Looking at the impact on different groups and engaging them in the conversation
· Working towards understanding the barriers to people accessing information on things like air quality and increasing awareness in communities that are particularly impacted
· Diversifying stakeholder groups and action that can be taken to engage other groups
· Identifying expert stakeholders to build up a resource base
· The different approaches to engaging with communities (appreciative inquiry / co production through deliberative approach)
· Bias and inequalities in new digital technologies/artificial intelligence algorithms
· Engagement and participation with business representatives (BIDs) to ensure that they are rooted within a community and not acting in isolation (Note: Councillor Macdonald to be invited to a Southwark BIDs CEO event)
· Built environment policies
· Work with Blue Bermondsey around healing and reconciliation work – opportunities for businesses to get involved.
· Available data sources and whether that presents a realistic picture of equalities at present
· Timeline for presenting draft framework and how it relates to the equalities charter [it was confirmed that this would be presented to cabinet in June]
· Thinking around using community grants to address equalities issues [ it was reported that an external review was due to be undertaking, particularly within the context of Southwark Stands Together, looking at the barriers faced, along with remedial action – a report was expected back in July 2021]
· Research to be undertaken on hidden communities in the borough
· Work of the Digital Working Group – a priority would be mapping the work being undertaken across the organisation which would inform a more integrated approach for service delivery for residents
· Equality audit of services, with a potential for an annual audit
· Environmental concerns linked to asthma amongst black students in particular (Note: Officers agreed to look at this and report back)