Local government lags behind on equality and diversity

Local government is not improving
fast enough on equality and diversity according to a report by the Audit
Commission.

The study reveals that although some
progress has been made in recent years, local authorities still have a long way
to go to meet their legal duties on equality and to cater for the needs of
their communities.

In the wake of the killing of
Stephen Lawrence, the Race Relations Amendment Act 2000 placed a duty on local
authorities to promote racial equality and produce a Race Equality Scheme by 31
May 2002, .

On top of this, new European Union
directives will outlaw discrimination in employment on grounds of sexuality,
religion and age. In addition, recent disturbances in northern cities and
disaffection with the political process add to the pressure for change.

But the Audit Commission report
Equality and Diversity: Learning from audit, inspection and research
, shows
that the performance of local authorities on equality and diversity in 2000/01
was poor in some key areas:

● Forty per cent of councils
had not even reached the first of five levels of the Commission for Racial
Equality’s good practice standard – this level requires that they have a
comprehensive race equality policy agreed by members across the council

● The average council in
England still had less than one quarter of its buildings accessible to disabled
people, although the proportion has risen in recent years

● In English councils, on
average, only 22 per cent of senior managers were women, compared to around
half of the working age population being women

However, since 1998 progress has
been made in improving disabled adaptations to pedestrian crossings, the time
taken to prepare statements of special educational needs, adherence to the
CRE’s Code of Practice in Rented Housing and disabled access to council
buildings.

Regarding progress in different
types of councils, district councils generally do best when it comes to
providing services for disabled people. Larger urban councils are better at
mirroring the communities they serve in employment.

English councils are progressing
faster than Welsh councils in most areas.

The report suggests five critical
areas for councils to improve their performance on equality: high level
commitment, involving users of services, integrating equalities into the
day-to-day delivery of services, monitoring performance on equalities and
sustaining the work over time.

Speaking at the launch of the
report, the Controller of the Audit Commission, Sir Andrew Foster said:
"The whole of the public sector – local government, the regulators and
central government – still has a long way to go to fully address diversity
issues.

"After 30 years of work on
equal opportunities, some parts of local government are still at the start of
the road to improvement. But the way forward is becoming clearer – be open
about your problems, make the commitment, rethink how you deliver services and
make sure you can sustain this focus over time."

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