Lancashire County Council's Equalities and Cohesion team has designed a toolkit to help officers to consider the equality implications of prioritised activities within the local area agreement (LAA). It can then help set actions to narrow the gaps between different groups of people.
Key learnings for other councils
Getting the support of community groups has been vital to the integrity of the work. Developing a directory of groups and circulating that to partners has helped ensure that communities remain linked with the work.
Implementing the toolkit is as important as developing it. The team learned to provide support to theme leads and other officers and or partners involved in the work programmes. This needs to happen throughout the timeframe of the LAA and the support needs to be flexible.
Effective communications are vital when undertaking any piece of work: the team has links with a range of forums to make sure that people can raise concerns and increase their understanding of the toolkit.
Background to the council
Lancashire has a population of 1,134,974 (2001 Census) and covers an area of 3,075 sq km, making it one of England's largest shire counties. Although it has a history of industry and manufacturing, 80 per cent of the county is officially classed as rural. There are several areas of outstanding natural beauty.
In 2007 there were 58 million visitors, contributing £2.9 billion to the Lancashire and Blackpool economy and helping to support nearly 54,000 jobs. By 2016 the aim is to attract 85 million visitors, who will help to support 70,000 jobs.
Who was involved?
The development of the toolkit was supported by the North West Employers Organisation (NWEO). They were keen to see something that might help local authorities to carry out equality impact assessments (EqIAs) of LAAs.
An important structure to help quality check the actions that are emerging through use of the toolkit is the Lancashire LAA Equality Reference Group. This is made up of the theme leads and representatives of infrastructure equality groups throughout the county. The group helped to design the toolkit. It will provide the 'critical friend' function by looking at the actions being developed by the theme groups and offering advice on them where necessary.
The problems and how we tackled them
There is currently no equality national indicator (NI) within the LAA. However, the county council's performance manager tasked the Cohesion and Equalities team with developing a systematic approach to equality. The team did this by developing a toolkit to support the development of equality actions throughout the work programmes for all the 35 NIs.
The team aims to embed equality, diversity and community cohesion throughout the work of the council. In terms of equality, the team has focused primarily on getting council officers to promote equality internally within their services.
Over the last two years, however, the team has widened its remit to include embedding equality into the county council's partnerships. In particular, it is overseeing the inclusion of equality within the Lancashire Local Area Agreement. Initial activities included running an Equality Impact Assessment Day to identify the general equality issues throughout each of the LAA's themes.
The day was attended by equality groups from all over Lancashire and was organised in a 'speed dating' format. This allowed groups to meet with each theme lead to discuss their particular requirements within the indicators of that theme.
Forty-two groups were represented at the event including:
- Age Concern Lancashire
- the Lancashire Black and Minority Ethnic Pact
- the Lancashire Forum of Faiths
- Access Lancashire
- a number of smaller community groups.
The day was successful in getting thoughts aired, but less so in establishing solid actions to take forward. This was due in part to the early stage that the LAA was at in terms of developing the work programmes. However, it had also underestimated the amount of support needed to shape tangible outcomes from the discussions on the day.
The LAA realised that they needed to take a more systematic approach to developing equality actions. The Lancashire Partnership (LSP) has commissioned a systematic approach to equalities and cohesion in relation to its local area agreement (LAA).
Initially, the biggest difficulty was getting buy-in from officers and partners. Comprehensive area assessment (CAA) and the performance management framework provided incentives for a systematic way of collecting evidence. Through these it could generate actions where there were gaps. However, it was the county council's Performance Management team that made the difference in getting others to sign up to the toolkit.
The toolkit's design has raised some questions. The team received comments that it was not a pure EqIA procedure. In its early development, officers tried to combine the toolkit within an EqIA framework. However, they found that this could not be done without making it complicated and onerous.
For the toolkit to be adopted, the format had to be easy to understand and easy to communicate to others. Officers satisfied themselves that full EqIAs would be carried out as part of the normal routine of business. The toolkit complements that by focusing on priority actions for the full work programmes rather than individual processes.
Outcomes and impact
- The approach is helping officers and partners to feel more able to engage and involve communities in their work. Partners are united in this aim. They believe that active involvement is a vital component to giving communities more voice and influence over what matters to them.
- The approach is helping to embed cohesion throughout the LAA. Once priorities are decided, these inform actions and annual workplans, so that it becomes part of people's daily work.
- Partners have begun to think more decisively about how actions to promote cohesion might be integrated into their areas of work.
- The toolkit has helped partners understand the difference between cohesion and equality and prompted more open discussion on both areas.
- As with cohesion, the approach is helping to embed equality actions throughout the LAA.
- The toolkit provides evidence of equality activity for CAA purposes.
The aim of the toolkit is to identify priorities that can be achieved and will narrow gaps in life outcomes for particular groups. It will also bring people together, and engage them in decisions that impact on their lives. The toolkit encourages partners to identify a small number of priorities - no more than five - so that these are achievable.
The toolkit explicitly encourages partners to engage more effectively with a wider range of communities. There is an expectation that this will empower communities to be involved in the LAA and have their voices heard. The toolkit includes a directory of community groups in Lancashire that partners can contact and engage with. The team are now working with theme leads to implement it.
Narrowing the Gaps: The Impact Assessment toolkit for the Lancashire Local Area Agreement (Word, 30 pages, 357KB) - on the Lancashire Partnership website
This case study has been produced for the IDeA by Resources for Change consultancy.
Kath Buddle, Policy Officer, Equalities and Cohesion
Lancashire County Council
telephone: 01772 532153