- 7 Mar 2018
Attendees and apologies
- Yvonne Strachan (Chair), Deputy Director, Equality Unit, Scottish Government
- Liz Hawkins, Communities Analysis Division, Scottish Government
- Martin Bolt, Finance Policy, Scottish Government
- Angela O’Hagan, Research Fellow, Glasgow Caledonian University/Scottish Women's Budget Group
- Jim McCormick, Associate Director Scotland, Joseph Rowntree Foundation
- Chris Oswald, Head of Policy and Communications, EHRC
- Nora Uhrig, EHRC
- Karen Grieve, Equality Unit, Scottish Government
- James Fowlie, Director (Integration and Development), CoSLA
- Lorraine Cook, Policy Manager (Migration, Population and Diversity), CoSLA
- John Nicholson, Deputy Director, Financial Strategy, Scottish Government
Items and actions
1. Update on Budget Process Review Group (BPRG)
Martin provided a brief update along the following lines:
- Budgetary discussions taking place at ministerial level.
- 2018-19 will be a transitionary year.
- The timescales are expected to be similar to last year with the UK Government providing the SG with 10 weeks’ notification before their budget is published (around the end of November).
- The SG aims to publish its draft budget three weeks later (mid-December).
- In terms of the recommendations from the Budget Process Review Group (BPRG), where there are quick fixes, for example, in terms of transparency, these will be incorporated into this year’s draft budget, however, some of the recommendations will take longer to embed.
- Finance colleagues are meeting with the Clerks of the Finance Committee to discuss the work of the Scottish Parliament in terms of future work on the budget.
- Finance colleagues are still working on tax revenue estimates until such time as the UK publishes this information.
- No advice has yet gone to ministers with regards a response to the BPRG recommendations.
In response, the following points were made:
- Angela’s contribution in relation in helping to ensure equality consideration throughout the BPRG process was non-tokenistic and that it strongly aligned with the budget process was recognised.
- The BPRG report recommendations include a need to open up the budget to year round scrutiny, but for this scrutiny to also be part of the budget formulation around impact and outcomes.
- The Scottish budgetary process is based on openness and consultation, and is therefore a good process to build on.
- The budget process would benefit from additional scrutiny which could be achieved if there was a pre-budget publication early in the summer, but for there to also be an equality document published alongside the budget.
- The purpose of this earlier equality budget publication would be to increase the robustness of equality consideration in the budget process by providing a forward look at equality outcomes to inform the budget.
- Introducing some sort of medium-term financial strategy could bring about greater alignment with the National Performance Framework and would also provide an opportunity for alignment with other processes, including the mainstreaming report, equality outcome reporting, etc .
- Proportionality is important in terms of the SG clearly accounting for its decision-making process: there isn’t a need for this to be overly data-heavy.
It was recognised that the report recommendations would have resource implications for SG and Parliament officials. In response, SG officials:
- Advised that there is broad agreement with what is being proposed, but this needs to be balanced with what is actually possible. The forward look approach is highly resource intensive.
- Various approaches could be used to take this forward, such as prioritising one sector at a time. This will be informed by the capacity of SG analysts.
- Some distributional analysis could be possible, but some basic parameters would need to be established first. This would include whether this would be done for the Scottish budget only; if this would consider only tax and benefits; and which groups would form part of this analysis.
- Were of the view that the report is quite vague in places and this placed a lot of responsibility on EBAG.
- Were of the view that if a publication was produced in terms of a medium-term framework, it was still imperative in the short to medium term that an equality publication was produced alongside the budget.
2. EBAG’s role with regards the equality recommendation of the BPRG report
If there is to be a SG response to the BPRG report recommendations, it was thought that EBAG would help frame this. However, it may be that there will be no SG or Parliament response but instead another way proposed to take the recommendations into account which might then be debated in Parliament later.
A number of reasons were put forward as to why the task of responding to equality sections of the BPRG report should be delegated to EBAG:
- It would reinforce and consolidate EBAG at a time of change.
- It could be argued that EBAG’s involvement in responding to the recommendations might circumvent some other processes.
- EBAG’s involvement would help ensure that the narrative produced would align the budget with the National Performance Framework and other key publications.
Concerns were raised about managing expectations given the time it will take to implement these recommendations. Also, if there are no reporting requirements, this will likely impact on the quality and quantity of data collected, the monitoring of the progress towards achieving this change and to what extent we can say this is a direct result of policy.
The SG’s Equality Evidence Strategy has highlighted gaps to be addressed that would help in this respect, however, it is important to set out what the priorities are and take a step by step approach. The SG has made policy and financial commitments in some areas (social security, attainment challenge, and inclusive growth). Given that Parliamentary Committees will likely scrutinise these areas, this could be the best place to start in terms of improving tracking data and evaluation evidence around outcomes and impact.
It was recognised that annual reports have the tendency to focus on processes and short-term wins which can under-estimate the impact of slower, long-term progress and the drivers and trends in connection with equality-related work. It is important, therefore, that Parliamentary scrutiny is more outcomes-based and informed by information on a medium-term financial strategy, a theme which is implicit in the BPRG’s report.
Consideration was also given by the group to:
- If EBAG is going to have a role in influencing equality work in terms of budgeting, what would this look like?
- That a meeting with Mr Mackay to discuss EBAG’s role with regards the equality recommendation would be helpful.
- Whether a small group should be established to consider others whose views should be sought on this work.
3. EBS 2018-19
SG officials were of the view that the format of this year’s EBS should be similar to last year’s, acknowledging that a different product will be developed for future iterations of the EBS. Suggestions for improvements in relation to the EBS included:
- Hosting a briefing for convenors to make the EBS more relatable (although it was noted this could be quite challenging, and that doing something with a collection of committees might be more achievable)
- Tailoring the EBS to specific committees to support their scrutiny
- Setting out a broad introductory framework identifying key issues, processes, products and milestones
- Emphasising the relationship between the socio-economic duty and equality
- Re-visiting the approach to human rights analysis in the document. The socio-economic duty could provide an opportunity to identify forthcoming issues in this area, or the way in which human rights will operate in certain policy contexts.
Jim advised that there was work taking place to look at closing the employment gap in relation to the Disability Delivery Plan. This has also been raised with the Race Equality Framework Adviser. Continuing to make the connections across these areas going forward is important. It was also suggested that linking in the Poverty Adviser would be sensible.
Having steered EBAG through its many iterations since it was first established, Yvonne will be retiring on 6 October. Yvonne’s significant contribution to the progression of equality was recognised by the group who wished her well in her retirement. Going forward, Liz will chair EBAG meetings until the new DD, Lisa Bird, has settled in.
Telephone: 0300 244 4000
Equality and Budget Advisory Group
Directorate for Local Government and Communities
Area 3H South