The Equality Framework for Local Government (EFLG) was introduced in May 2009. It builds on and recognises the work that Dorset Fire and Rescue Service (DFRS) has already undertaken under the old Equality Standard.
It is based on three levels of achievement; developing, achieving and excellent which DFRS can implement in ways that are relevant and proportionate to our needs as a fire and rescue service.
The framework also contains features such as a:
new wider definition of equality, based on equal life chances
new section on ‘Knowing your communities and equality mapping’
focus on equality outcomes for all sections of the community, mapping and narrowing gaps
central role for self-assessment and peer challenge.
The new framework uses a wider definition of equality, originally set out in Government's 'Equalities Review', based on the idea of equal life chances.
“An equal society protects and promotes equal, real freedom and opportunity to live in the way people value and would choose, so that everyone can flourish".
An equal society recognises people’s different needs, situations and goals, and removes the barriers that limit what people can do and be.”
This definition is more aspirational than the formal legal definitions of equality. It is about what we can do to create a fairer society and recognises that:
- equality is an issue for us all
- we don’t all start from the same place
- to create a fairer society we need to recognise different needs.
The definition above includes the groups that are protected by discrimination law. DFRS will therefore need to continue to consider the impact of race, gender and transgender, disability, age, sexual orientation and religion and or belief may have on the life chances of members of their communities.
But it will also encourage councils to understand the relationship between these characteristics and socio-economic status and the experience of other vulnerable groups.
The definition of equality in the Framework is very close to the way inequality and vulnerability is defined by the Audit Commission:
“Effective local public services target effort where improvement is most needed to tackle inequalities within and between communities. This may include focusing on the particular needs of people who are disadvantaged or discriminated against through age, disability, race, gender or transgender, religion or belief and sexual orientation. It may also include efforts to reduce child poverty or other inequalities within communities. We will consider how well local partners know and understand the nature and extent of inequality and disadvantage within their communities and how effectively they are working to reduce or eliminate discrimination.”
The five performance areas of the Equality Framework
The following information comes from the Improvement and Development Agency(IDeA) website:
The five performance areas of the Equality Framework are:
- knowing your communities and equality mapping
- place shaping, leadership, partnership and organisational commitment
- community engagement and satisfaction
- responsive services and customer care
- a modern and diverse workforce.
Knowing our communities and equality mapping
Our society is becoming more diverse. Understanding differences is no longer just an issue for urban areas with large black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups. The prosperity and cohesion of all communities are affected by differing age, gender, disability, religious and sexual orientation profiles. It is also important to understand differences within communities. There are many forms of disability; gender too is a very wide category and there will be great differences, as well as similarities, in the experience of women. Many areas of the country are also very ethnically diverse and the experience of all groups will be affected by socio-economic factors. Today it is impossible to assume we know the composition of our communities – we have to find that out.
Place shaping, leadership, partnership and organisational commitment
We know that strategic leadership – both political and managerial – is key to improving equality outcomes. Local councillors in particular have a central role to play in ensuring equality issues are integral to the council’s performance and strategic aims. Very often it will be ward councillors who have the greatest knowledge of the needs of different sections of the community and changes in the population of their local area.
Knowledge of the needs of different communities and key equality gaps should inform strategic priorities like the sustainable community strategy, the local development framework and local area agreements (LAAs). It is in these documents that what we have called the ‘story’ or ‘vision’ of equality should find expression.
The Framework also emphasises the importance of working in partnership with local primary care trusts, the police and fire and rescue services and the voluntary and community sector. Local strategic partnerships (LSPs) will often be the natural vehicle for such partnerships. Narrowing equality gaps and improving the life chances of different groups will require a pooling of evidence, resources and action planning.
For areas with district and county councils, working together on equalities will often be the necessary and most efficient way of addressing local inequalities.
Finally, the framework requires evidence of organisational commitment in terms of resource allocation, compliance with public duties, democratic engagement, scrutiny, service planning and procurement.
Community engagement and satisfaction
Most local authorities recognise the importance of community engagement and participation and have moved far beyond simple consultation exercises, important as they can be, to find new ways of involving communities and neighbourhoods.
However, communities of place are not always synonymous with communities of interest and it remains important to have the means to involve these communities of interest in decision making as well as service and workforce planning.
Responsive services and customer care
Service provision, whether provided directly or procured or commissioned, remains a central function for local authorities. The framework will help councils personalise services to meet the needs of people with different backgrounds and ensure fair access.
Of particular importance will be a robust process for equality impact assessments (EIAs) and the implementation of action plans, equality proofing procurement and commissioning and monitoring access.
A modern and diverse workforce
The ability to deliver responsive, personalised services will depend in a large part on the composition, skills, understanding and commitment of a workforce. The framework therefore looks at ensuring that:
- relevant equality objectives are built into workforce strategies
- an understanding of the local labour market and the barriers equality groups face informs the setting of equality employment objectives
- all major employment policies are equality assessed
- plans are in place to improve representation at senior levels of women and BAME officers
- training and development programmes address equality issues
- there is effective action to address equal pay
- a workplace culture in which staff are treated with dignity and respect.
The three levels of performance
There will now be three levels of performance.
Level 1: developing
Level 2: achieving
Level 3: excellent
Dorset Fire and Rescue Service is currently at level 2 - the 'achieving' level.
Useful links: where to find out more