The need for Councillors to be trained on the Equality Act

Read the latest blog “The need for Councillors to be trained on the Equality Act“ by Andy Gregg, ROTA Chief Executive.

In the last week I have spoken to two recently elected London Labour Councillors about the induction process they have been given in the six months since they were elected. One is a Councillor in Tory Wandsworth and the other in Labour Islington. Both of them are very committed to race equality and other dimensions of equality. Yet neither of them reports any significant mention of the Equalities Act or of their Public Service Equality Duties (PSED) in the induction programmes provided by their respective local authorities. This is shocking and confirms ROTA’s concerns that Councils and other public service providers such as schools and health authorities are often either not aware of their obligations or don’t think it is important to consider how best to implement them.

The law states that Councillors and those subject to the general equality duty must have “due regard” to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation and other conduct prohibited by the Act. They have an explicit duty to advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic (gender, race, religion, age, disability etc.) and those who do not. In other words there is a duty on public authorities to consider or think about how their policies or decisions affect people who are protected under the Equality Act.

Over the last few years ROTA has trained over 600 individuals and voluntary organisations to be able to use the Equality Act and the PSED to challenge discriminatory public service provision  We are convinced of the importance of the legislation and the significant liabilities that public bodies can be open to if they fail to implement it.

Our research has drawn attention to the almost complete absence of any knowledge of their legal obligations under the Equalities Act by Free schools and many Academy school chains.

In the next few weeks we will publish research on the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire and the sometimes appalling public services that survivors received (or often didn’t receive) after the fire. The report was commissioned by the Equality and Human Rights Commission who wanted (like ROTA)  to investigate how survivors were treated and whether their human rights had been breached and their rights under the Equalities Act contravened. The research demonstrates the importance of local authorities and other public bodies  having due regard to their obligations  under equalities and human rights legislation and the vital need  for councillors, council officers and other public servants to have a solid understanding and training that will allow them to carry out their obligations under the Equalities Act.

ROTA will be recruiting volunteers to search the induction programmes of other public authorities and investigate the possibility of ROTA and other partners providing training if local authorities do not do this themselves!