george ecktonGeorge Eckton, a Labour member from Shettleston interested in domestic violence elimination and promoting equality, looks at the latest Equality Budget Statement from the Scottish Government, and finds it lacking.

 

Given the recent and ongoing debate regarding the Scottish Budget for 2016-17, I decided to have another read through the Equality Budget Statement (EBS). I know, I’m sad, but I wanted to see how it addressed the issue of equality, and particularly the inequalities caused by an austere public expenditure environment.

Four or five years ago, the current Scottish Government wanted reassurance that its spending advanced equality for all in Scotland. So they started to develop the EBS process as a systematic approach to assessing their budget decisions on equality groups. It was intended to work in a participatory way, which allows these groups the opportunity to feed in their experiences. This is a laudable, non-tick-box objective, meant to target most effectively, avoid or mitigate negative impacts on those groups. The process was to be overseen by an expert advisory group.

That aim of a systematic approach surely gets harder to achieve in an austere economic climate.

I won’t get into the political debate of whether 1p is progressive or not; it’s reasonably progressive in my view. But it would have been interesting to see that potential anti-austerity measure – i.e. a tax increase – given some analysis in the equality statement published pre-Christmas. In that way that the impact of changes in spending on protected and/or socio-economic characteristics (for example age in this #kidsnotcuts instance) could have been assessed against a range of possible spending and resourcing scenarios.

The first thing to notice is that the EBS document says it’s a “statement”. The clue is in the title, I suppose, and that’s what it is: a statement of the government’s achievements and spending around the groups with protected characteristics and socio-economic disadvantage mentioned in the Equality Act. It’s a nice, clear statement of the government’s Greatest Hits. Fair play, there has been some very good stuff this year and in previous years.

But the document also sometimes refers to the work undertaken as “analysis”. It’s difficult to see why. I would have hoped that analysis of the budget of any government in future could get into a range of possible scenarios with details of why such an approach, e.g. raise taxes, wasn’t taken on the basis of equality. If you assume an efficiency angle then this contraction of spending argument can only surely be justified for a certain numbers of years before public authorities start to fail to have “due regard”, as the lawyers say – or apply common sense and test all alternatives, in non legal speak – and start to struggle to achieve their statutory equality duties because money is too tight to mention?

So in this challenging financial climate, maybe we need EBS processes to move beyond not just a statement, or even examination, into an “assessment” of the budget. A Strategic Equality Budget Assessment?

What I’m proposing is not as detailed as a an equality impact assessment (EqIA), which is a process of checking that a public policy, project or scheme does not discriminate against disadvantaged or vulnerable persons. The Equality Act, the last piece of legislation from the last UK Labour government, defines the groups of persons and the characteristics that this legislation seeks to protect from discrimination. Sadly EqIAs seem to have followed a similar path to other statutory assessments, in that they are seen and undertaken sometimes as a “tick-box” exercise. Maybe even sometimes the relevant organisation forgets to even tick that box or hopes others forgot that they are meant to remember!

If we are serious about mainstreaming equality and reducing inequality, we need to be moving to a position where the general legal equality duties are mainstreamed into the day-to-day decision-making process of any organisation, central government included, enabling a richer narrative of the aspects of the decision-making to be evidenced. The role of central government cannot simply be to set its budget and delegate the tough choices to others downstream. It’s worth noting that various legal principles relating to Equality Act case law suggest that the duty isn’t delegable.

I’m suggesting an equality strategic assessment which is not just a statement of the outcome or expenditure, or a rerun of the greatest hits, but a narrative of comparison about the choices made and the rationale behind them, with clear evidence as to why those strategic decisions were made. Surely this would help further engage the public in a debate about how we address the inequalities within Scotland which were outlined within the recent EHRC report and the political spending decisions required in future years?

If, in the future, we are getting into even tougher choices about national budgets which will fund local services, ultimately the actions of the central grant funding central government could have a material impact on the ability of public bodies to advance equality and avoid discrimination in the provision of local services. Surely we need to move past a comprehensive list of projects, policies and practices into a system which appraises a range of scenarios and the downstream implications of these choices within a national budget? This could protect other public bodies from challenge that, for example, they could have locally raised council tax to pay for local services or made different choices to avoid discrimination and effective promotion of inequality.

Hopefully with the advent of a fully introduced Equality Act socio-economic duty in Scotland, which is due to be devolved by the Scotland Act, we can see the equality budgeting environment more clearly defined and a landscape where government policies such as the Council Tax freeze are clearly evidenced and assessed at a national policy level. A place where taxation policy in Scotland is refreshed and the socio-economic duty introduced as a measure which improves local democracy and budgeting in Scotland. Budgetary decisions closer to communities and the consideration all financial options, not just a choice from a set menu.

It’s also important to consider who gets to make the decisions moving forward: central government and an expert advisory group? Or local democratic elected politicians and local communities through a participatory budgeting approach? Certainly I’d prefer more of the latter as, it would seem, did the recent commission on strengthening local democracy.

In the future, rather than it being a centrally-imposed duty to do things in a certain universal way in Scotland, the equity and fairness of decisions on funding services emerging from national policy could be left to those public sector service providers closest to the communities and individuals covered by the Equality Act.

I fear that this Utopian vision is unlikely to become reality. But a good first step would be an Equality Budget Statement which isn’t primarily a statement of expenditure or projects, which is how it came across to me upon re-reading it. I would hope it could transform into a comprehensive narrative around a continuous conscious approach to assessing the likely impacts of the Scottish budget downstream for those service providers to which decisions are delegated.

For me, strategic equality statements need to be credible and persuasive, and this is achieved more by quality of evidential analysis than a repetition of greatest hits. Thankfully the EBS says it is viewed as a work in progress. I hope it becomes a classical work of policy popular art in future.

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20 thoughts on “Budget equality?

  1. An article on equality in a Labour party blog. Its beyond parody.

    We are in a political union which gave the Soviet Union a run for its money on inequality. A union the Labour party fights tooth and nail to protect.

    We are the 4th most unequal society on the planet within this union. BECAUSE OF THIS UNION!

    Labour insist we endure Tory Government as a price for this union. This ensures we endure further inequality heaped upon inequality heaped upon inequality.

    And once again we get another Labour drone trying to put the blame onto the only mainstream party willing to remove us from this persistent ideologically motivated drive towards inequality and the creation of 2 tier society.

    Labour continue to offer up nothing but betrayal.

  2. “The role of central government cannot simply be to set its budget and delegate the tough choices to others downstream.”
    So ….on the one hand you say Holyrood should do more than just set the budget and delegate (more interference?)

    very strange and contradictory….you appear to ask multiple times for

    “Budgetary decisions closer to communities and the consideration all financial options,”

    “they could have locally raised council tax to pay for local services “

    “Or local democratic elected politicians and local communities through a participatory budgeting approach? Certainly I’d prefer more of the latter “

    “the equity and fairness of decisions on funding services emerging from national policy could be left to those public sector service providers closest to the communities and individuals covered by the Equality Act.”

    continuous conscious approach to assessing the likely impacts of the Scottish budget downstream for those service providers to which decisions are delegated.

    and with the rest you ask for a free hand in local financing and budget choices?

    Since Labour Councils have a long history of profligate waste, taking money for specific areas (education etc) and spending it elsewhere and then blaming the government for their failings…
    giving Local Authorities more power to set budgets and raise “locally raised council tax for local services” seems suicidally stupid…..as a local taxpayer I am under no rush to allow the Local Labour Group access to even more of my money to spend on vanity projects whilst cutting jobs

    1. Absolutely spot on! Labour councils in particular have proven time and time again they simply cannot be trusted to run a budget. The latest proof of that was when they deprived local residents in Dumfries of the central Governments compensation package of 1500 per claim.

      Who in their right mind would want to give a Labour council any kind of financial responsibility?

  3. “I won’t get into the political debate of whether 1p is progressive or not; it’s reasonably progressive in my view.”

    Oh I bet you wont but it would have been educational to see how you would justify imposing an extra taxation burden on the working poor as “progressive” from their perspective and not from the perspective of a Red Tory.

    1. Mike in my opinion all taxes are regressive unless it can be proven and there is a real need to raise them and no alternative in this instance there is no need to raise them and the reason for George and his cohorts to insistt on this for purley political and altruistic reasons beggars belief as the Labour Party UK head office and the Scottish Labour section branch office Red Tories lost the general election because the electorate in Scotland and the wider UK did not trust them and thought them to be incompetent in running the economy.

  4. “But it would have been interesting to see that potential anti-austerity measure – i.e. a tax increase – given some analysis in the equality statement published pre-Christmas.”

    Are you insane? In what universe is imposing a further blanket taxation imposition on any population an anti-austerity measure?

    Increasing our taxation by increasing our income would be an anti austerity measure but imposing local and income taxation without further income increase is PUSHING FURTHER AUSTERITY DOWN OUR THROATS!

    Note Caps for emphasis not “shouty”.

    Where does Labour find these delusional self deniers?

  5. “George Eckton, a Labour member from Shettleston”

    Wouldn’t be George Eckton, Team Leader, Environment and Regeneration, COSLA?

    Who’d have thunk an article asking for more power for Labour Councils would be a COSLA team leader under the “Labour member from Shettleston” blanket

  6. “That aim of a systematic approach surely gets harder to achieve in an austere economic climate.”

    Advancing tis “austere economic climate” was a proud boast within the Labour party GE manifesto. They too wanted to push the 30 billion “savings” austerity program if elected.

    Hello reality calling anybody home?

  7. Well that took some reading a very deep article indeed, but if I have got the gist it, it appears you want control of Scotlands funding to be in the hands of councils rather than the democraticly elected scottish government.

    And I suspect mainly labour controlled ones.

    1. Lets be clear about what “Progressive taxation” means because there seems to be probably a self induced false conception of the actual understanding.

      Progressive taxation is a taxation based on the “ABILITY TO PAY” principle. Again caps for emphasis.

      The most obvious and transparent way in which the “ABILITY TO PAY” principle can be applied “PROGRESSIVELY” is to increase the taxation intake from applying an income increase. That absolutely guarantees the principle of “ABILITY TO PAY” is employed.

      Labour now have the same problem with this principle as their blue Tory comrades because it involves placing an imposition on their new backers and party funders in the Private sector.

      They refuse to insist that the Private sector is forced to increase salaries in line with inflation at the very least and instead impose pay freezes due to the “Austerity” they themselves helped to create with their ideological policy direction.

      Pay freezes not imposed on board members bankers city fat cats and University Principles it seems.

      So there you have it. There is no principle of “Progression” involved by increasing taxation during a period of pay enforced pay freezes and below inflation pay increases at least not from the perspective of those forced to endure the hardship it causes.

      Not a problem from the perspective of the Nuevo rich Labour councillor or Parliamentary member of course who manage to take down most of their income as tax free expenses.

  8. Labours idea of equality is to raise everybodies taxation burden equally.

    Of course those who can afford to avoid taxation altogether will feel this burden somewhat less.

  9. Cutting through the gobbledygook of this article that recommends that the local councils should have more control over finance is a non starter all councils that are run by the Scottish Labour section Red Tories who are in charge are incompetent and want to implement council tax and income tax rises that will hit hard working folks in the pocket so that they can milk their expenses and that my comrades is the reason why the Scottish Labour section Red Tories will get punished at the next Scottish elections and will be beaten into 3rd place by their sister party the Blue Tories who will come 2nd and the SNP will be a triumphant 1st so please enjoy.

  10. George I don’t agree with your article which in my view indicates that the Scottish Labour section Red Tories should be in charge of finance that equals higher council tax and income tax for the folks of Scotland, that asides you seem like a decent young guy the kinda guy that should have been in the line up as a potential candidate as a MSP for the Scottish Labour section Red Tories in the Scottish elections instead of the same old same old wheel them in again careerist old foggies, believe you me brother the Old Skool Labour Party is dead and with that part of me has died with it, as a life long socialists my only hope is for an Independent Scotland and a complete breakaway from the Labour Party UK and the formation of a new Independent Scottish Labour Party until then I am a nationalist 1st and a Socialist 2nd so comrade the issue of Independence is not black and white even the great late Jimmy Reid was a socialist and a nationalist so do please consider going out and getting a library book on Jimmy Reid and read about him and contemplate and enjoy.

  11. Can’t wait till we get round to talking about the EU referendum.
    That will be a revelation.

    1. Oh it really will because they will have to show why the UK is too wee too poor and too stupid to go it alone.

    2. I have started to watching comedy’s on TV in the build up to the EU referendum so as to get acclimatised to the hapless input from the Scottish Labour section Red Tories project fear part 2, it can be expected that all comments about staying in the EU will be sold to the Scottish folks in negative terms of doom and gloom just like going to the ice cream van to buy a cone and the being asked do you want a raspberry sprinkle or nuts on it but instead you will get heaps and heaps of project fear…fear…fear part 2. Expect another appearance from Bela Lugosi Brown doing the side shoe shuffle back and forth across the stage spouting bucket loads of doom and gloom and giving you a sore neck into the bargain so go out and stock up on the biscuits not Tunocks and get ready for the Scottish Labour section Red Tories EU comedy show and enjoy.

      1. The EU referendum has not even warmed up yet and the Labour Party UK Red Tories head office have wheeled out their Tory Cheerleader Benn to give the folks in the different coutries of Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales a large dollop of Project Fear part 2 see the link below, I fear that this tactic of Project Fear part 2 will rub up the folks of England who will probably vote for a Brexit and drag Scotland kicking and screaming ou of the EU against our will.

        http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-35550651

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