EQUALITIES AND RACE RELATIONS The Council’s Equal Opportunities Policy sets out its commitment to equality of opportunity, including to racial groups as follows: “West Somerset District Council is committed to providing equal opportunities both in its delivery of services and in employment and procedures which means ensuring that no member of the public, employee or councillor receives less favourable treatment on the grounds of disability, gender, age, marital status, race, colour, nationality, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, politics, religious beliefs or trade union activities or is disadvantaged by conditions or requirements which cannot be shown to be justifiable for health and safety or legal reasons. The Council undertakes to be able to assess the effects of introducing equal opportunities measures and to ensure the policy continues to be relevant.” In view of the fact that we have no dedicated Equalities Officer or budget, as a council we are trying to develop our equalities work in partnership with the other Somerset authorities and organisations as much as possible. Somerset-wide consultation with diverse groups and individuals is underway, aiming to improve equality of opportunity and fair access to services. This consultation is not a one-off exercise; it is hoped that the various groups and individuals will begin to form a database of consultees and that the contacts will grow and become more inclusive over time. This work is being led by the County Council, and includes the district councils, the health authority, Somerset Access and Inclusion Network (SAIN), Somerset Gay Health and Somerset Racial Equality Council (SREC). The results will support the Race Equality Scheme assessment of policies and functions, as well as other community consultation and the needs / impact assessment required by the Equalities Standard (BVPI 2.) This consultation also supports the “Statement of Services” to the Partnership .Against Racial Harassment. (See below) W.S.D.C. currently has a Statement of Services to the Partnership Against Race Harassment (P.A.R.H.), which includes the W.S.D.C Community Safety Officer, Principal Housing Officer, a West Somerset Advice Bureau representative and a representative from the Somerset Race Equality Council. Other joint actions intended to improve equalities include joint equalities training plans for officers and members and joint development of data collection to try and overcome difficulties in collecting meaningful data in an area with a relatively small ethnic population. Training on the Race Relations Amendment Act 2000 took place in November 2002 at South Somerset DC. This was for senior managers, and all CMT and service managers were given an opportunity to attend. Future Members training is being considered jointly. West Somerset is predominantly rural, and this can lead to particular communities and individuals becoming isolated and disadvantaged as a result of where they live. That isolation can doubly disadvantage racial groups who may already face social and institutional discrimination. The Race Relations Act 1976 as amended by the Race Relations (Amendment )Act 2000 places a general duty on a wide range of authorities to promote race equality. This duty means that in everything they do authorities should have a due regard to the need to: Eliminate unlawful racial discrimination; Promote equality of opportunity; and Promote good race relations between people of different racial groups. If a public authority does not meet any of its specific duties, it could face enforcement action by the C.R.E. under section 71D of the amended Race Relations Act. In May 2002 W.S.D.C published a Race Equality Scheme. Although published within the statutory deadline, there is still need for improvements to the scheme, especially by the way of some sort of practical action plan to enable us to carry race relations and other equalities work forward. The results of the diversity consultation will help us develop our scheme. County-wide we hope to develop a joint Scheme which will combine summaries of all our schemes and include key actions and priorities, some to be undertaken in partnership. The current monitoring arrangements for equalities are delivered primarily corporately, through performance management and the following Best Value Indicators, reported to Overview and Scrutiny Committee quarterly: BV2 – Equality Standard for Local Government adopted by Overview and Scrutiny in March 2002; BV 11b - The percentage of top 5% of earners from black and minority ethnic communities. BV 17- The percentage of local authority employees from minority ethnic communities compared with the percentage of the economically active minority community population in the authority area. The adoption of the Equalities Standard (BV 2) will monitor progress with promotion of race equality, together with gender and disability and other equalities issues as appropriate, and eventually will ensure a comprehensive monitoring and reviewing process. We are currently at level 1 and this is clearly where progress needs to be made. Success in the promotion and advancement of equality issues will require leadership, commitment and resources from members and senior officers. Councillors and the Corporate Management Team will need to ensure that monitoring of developments in race relations, promotion and equality of access are implemented and monitored at service level. Each unit will need to work towards establishing standards, targets and procedural guidance where necessary, as set out in the current Equal Opportunities Policy and as required by the Equality Standards and the Race Equality Scheme.
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