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Publication - Minutes

Equality and Budget Advisory Group minutes: May 2017

Published: 7 Mar 2018
Location: Victoria Quay, Edinburgh

Meeting minutes of the Equality and Budget Advisory Group (EBAG) held on 23 May 2017.

Attendees and apologies

Attendees

  • Yvonne Strachan (Chair), Deputy Director, Equality Unit, Scottish Government
  • Liz Hawkins, Communities Analysis, Scottish Government
  • John Nicholson, Deputy Director, Financial Strategy, Scottish Government
  • Chris Oswald, Head of Policy and Communications, EHRC
  • Jim McCormick, Associate Director Scotland, Joseph Rowntree Foundation
  • Lorraine Cook, Policy Manager (Migration, Population and Diversity), COSLA
  • Karen Grieve, Equality Unit, Scottish Government
  • Nicole Ronald, Equality Unit, Scottish Government

Apologies

  • Angela O’Hagan, Research Fellow, Glasgow Caledonian University/Scottish Women's Budget Group
  • Ellie Crawford, OCEA, Scottish Government
  • James Fowlie, Director (Integration and Development), COSLA

Items and actions

Reflections and feedback on last year’s EBS and Budget

John set the context in relation to the Budget, noting that:

  1. We have had a single year budget for the last two years; a multi-year budget has not taken place for a few years. The UK Government has moved into a cycle where, off the back of a general election, they are trying to set out a five year plan. Currently, the Scottish Government has developed spending plans on its revenue budget until 2020 and capital budget until 2021. A post-election spending review might mean we have a budget beyond 2021, but this would depend on how long it takes the UK Government to reach this conclusion and publish its budget outcome.

  2. The Scottish Government Budget was not usually published until after the UK Government’s Autumn Statement. From this year, the Autumn Statement will become the Autumn Budget and will be where all significant policy changes and announcements will take place (rather than in March as previously was the case). No decision has been made as yet as to when the Scottish Government Budget will be published, but the Budget Review Group is looking at this issue.

  3. It is still not clear what the public finance implications of Brexit will be. Timeframes are constrained more generally because of Brexit, and so it may be that the Budget and EBS should be considered in light of this.

  4. The UK Government has announced that they are planning to take a further £3.5 billion from the 2019-20 budget which is very likely to have an impact on Scottish spending.

This year’s budget was different from previous year’s due to the tax raising powers which will affect how much can be spent on public services. In advance of the general election, we do not know what resources will be available to us and how this should be spent, but this will be informed by manifesto and Programme for Government commitments.

Suggested improvements for 2018-19 EBS

The group agreed that the protected characteristics chapter is useful and that there is a need to retain the EBS as part of a suite of documents published alongside the Draft Budget, however, it was felt that the feedback loop as part of the process could be strengthened.

The group felt it was important to build this impact and evaluation evidence to move beyond the comprehensive but limited list of spending commitments, although with limited time constraints, it might not be possible to do so this year. This could perhaps be achieved by taking a deep dive where the evidence looks promising and make some choices on analytical investment in terms of the things which will make a significant difference for equality groups. Could a thematic focus within the EBS help to achieve this, combined with an assessment and analysis of our spending decisions?

In recognition of the limited time for scrutiny of the Draft Budget, the group reflected on ways in which the period between summer and November could be used more productively, for example, to look at a deep dive area across a number of years and consider the impact retrospectively.

Thematic discussions/areas for deep dive for EBAG

The group agreed that Fair Work is a good example of the way in which data can be used to inform the progress made and the approaches taken. It was recognised that there was an appetite to look at a big area of work to approach things in a different way to ensure that the EBS does more or to assess if things are moving in the right direction, and a deep dive would be one way of doing this.

Liz had to leave the meeting at this point, however, she has provided some examples at Annex A of a forward looking deep dive on how a specific policy opportunity could be maximised for equality groups, and a deep dive looking backwards at the cumulative impact of past action an budgetary decisions in a specific devolved area. Liz considers there is value in either of these as a pilot exercise provided that they were scoped reasonably tightly on an agreed policy area.

Such a piece of work would be used as evidence as to the influence this policy and investment has had on the system, for example, welfare cuts and the impact of the recession on equality communities. This would enable further dedicated work to be done on what the impact of decisions already taken are having if the evidence is telling us there might be better ways of doing this. This evidence could inform subsequent EBSes, and the work of other organisations in related fields could also support this.

EBAG members were asked to consider what other areas would be useful for future EBSes so they become part of our early thinking, and how we do this in partnership with other organisations operating in this field, such as JRF and Carnegie.
Suggestions made included:

  • affordable housing
  • early years’ childcare expansion
  • employability, specifically the disability employment gap
  • fair Work
  • MAs
  • procurement and the opportunities for central and local government here
  • social security (although it was acknowledged there are many partners involved in this issue)
  • welfare

Chris felt that the private sector plays a significant role in MAs and the gap in disability employment, and that the focus should be where there is more central and local government control.

Jim agreed to draft a short paper as to what future EBS iterations could look like and on ways in which the EBS could be improved in the short and longer term. This paper will consider opportunities if there was to be a deep dive around an issue, such as Fair Work; what could be done that would be useful around this process; and how it could be improved by building in a more analytical reflection for the next iteration of the EBS. This learning could then be applied to future initiatives to increase their impact.

Action: Jim to draft a short paper on the future format and function of the EBS in the short and longer term

It was acknowledged that the EBS needs to be integrated as part of the system and published alongside the Draft Budget as, if not, the EBS would perform more of an outside than formative function. However, some sort of scrutiny or evaluative function would be valuable. In moving forward, the EBS could provide more of a reflective opportunity, and there would be nothing to stop further reflection on other forms of Scottish Government spending being added to this.

The group felt that it would be helpful to further support Mr Mackay’s understanding of equality analysis that underpins the Budget, and that a discussion with Mr Mackay on a different feel or shape of the EBS could be a way in which to achieve this. The next EBAG meeting will be used to consider the issues to discuss with Mr Mackay over the summer and what can be done to support wider understanding and delivery against ministerial priorities.

John suggested that EBAG may want to input into the Budget Review Group (BRG) to make some sort of recommendation, be that specific or something more general. Although the timing of EBS may not lend itself to an evaluative function when looking at the Budget in terms of what has gone up and come down, it does so more when considered as part of a year round process. For example, the Scottish Parliament undertakes little retrospective scrutiny and analysis as to what happened with a particular Budget, but the BRG is considering ways in which to encourage the Parliament to look at the Budget differently. The BRG is also giving thought to how to address the narrow window there is for Parliamentary Committees’ scrutiny of the Budget, and that perhaps more external scrutiny could be requested which could support wider, year-round scrutiny.

John advised that the BRG is due to publish its report at the end of June and that a draft version of report will be considered in the next few weeks. Any thoughts on timing, scrutiny and/or equality inclusion EBAG has in response to the draft paper could be fed in to help the group, for example, an equality piece at a different point throughout the year to help support the equality agenda around this.

Thinking of equality as an integral part of the process is crucial, however, there needs to be more of an evaluative role on the Budget more generally, and equality should be contributing to this. It is important that the whole Budget process is more about understanding impact and what makes a difference rather than how much was invested. In this way, it will be easier to change the way in which the way people view spend, and to see the potential impact of spend. There is a need to reflect on what is working before it can be established if this has made a difference or not.

The way in which the cumulative impact of spend on different groups of people should be considered as an integral part of the social economic impact of decisions made. If this evidence is built up over time, the Committee can look back over a number of years and see collectively what the investment in this area has managed to achieve and what underlines success in this area. In going forward, it would likely be beneficial for parliamentary scrutiny to become longer term. There could, for example, be a number of months where the Scottish Parliament could have discussions with portfolios and external groups so that at the end, more informed conclusions could be drawn from the evidence in this area.

Angela had advised that she would be asking that the BRG take evidence from EBAG as the views of this group should be reflected in the BRG process, and learning on equality assessment and the importance of equality analysis in the Budget process should be shared. Angela had suggested it might be helpful if EBAG also offered comment to the BRG, and the group felt it would be useful for this discussion to inform recommendations for inclusion in the report.

AOB

Jim advised that Joseph Rowntree Foundation is hosting a conference on inclusive growth in Glasgow on 27 June which Angela Constance is speaking at.

Karen introduced the summary paper on distributional analysis and proposed that such an analysis could be considered as part of the EBS process in future. The group agreed to discuss this paper at the next meeting, and members asked if the background to the summary could be circulated in advance of the next meeting.

  • Action: Liz to circulate background and summary of distributional analysis (see Annex B below)

Annex A

Looking backwards – cumulative impact analysis

This process would be more readily aligned with the impact of budgetary choices. It would look back over a five (?) year period at the budgetary decisions in one specific policy area to examine to what extent they have helped or hindered opportunity for people with different protected characteristics. Examples for consideration could be affordable housing or child care provision.

For example, the affordable housing budget has been increasing over the last five years in response to specific government policy to increase affordable housing provision. However, a deep dive could analyse whether this budget has maximised its ability to reduce disadvantage and advance opportunity across the protected characteristics. Within this, issues could be considered such as the nature and location of housing built, the nature of tenants who apply for and are housed, the workforce employed in constructing, managing and maintaining the homes.

Looking forwards – policy implications analysis

This process would be more readily aligned with an EQIA but would allow earlier strategic consideration of policy development and greater input into context setting. The key challenge would be to identify for each protected characteristic the experience of whatever is in policy scope.

One issue mentioned at the meeting was Fair Work. This would have merit given the transfer of the employability programme to Scottish Government. A second issue that could be considered is child poverty given that there is a new Child Poverty Scotland Bill and a delivery plan to be produced by April 2018. I would envisage in either case that this work would include:

  • examination of specific issue (child poverty/employability) from the perspective of people with a range of protected characteristics
  • examination of the types of barriers faced by people with a range of protected characteristics
  • examination of the types of policy solutions that might be most effective for specific protected characteristics

Annex B

Distributional analysis – the context for Maria Gannon’s work

Maria Gannon’s work is a collaborative project between Glasgow, Heriot Watt University and Scottish Parliament Information Centre to look at the impact of cuts in local authority budgets on lower income households. This has been built on initial work funded by JRF.

The premise of the work is to examine the distributional analysis of budgetary cuts using a social impact tool (a six point scale which is applied to identify whether services are pro-rich, pro-poor or neutral). The briefing applies this social impact tool to the budgets of all 32 local authorities for 2016-17. The main finding is that most expenditure is spent on pro-poor services and, therefore, when dealing with budget reductions, councils have little option but to make the most of their savings from services which are used more by lower income groups.

A full copy of the Financial Scrutiny Unit’s briefing on the social impact of the 2016-17 local government budget published on 31 October 2016 can be found here: http://www.parliament.scot/ResearchBriefingsAndFactsheets/S5/SB_16-84_The_social_impact_of_the_2016-17_local_government_budget.pdf.

Scottish Government officials have discussed with Maria Gannon whether similar work could be extended to the Scottish Budget. It was thought it might be possible but it would not be straightforward. This has not been progressed any further.

Contact

Email: Karen.Grieve@gov.scot

Telephone: 0300 244 4000

Post:
Equality and Budget Advisory Group
Scottish Government
Equality Unit
Directorate for Local Government and Communities
Area 3H South
Victoria Quay
Edinburgh
EH6 6QQ

Published:
7 Mar 2018
Equality and Budget Advisory Group minutes: May 2017