The government announced changes today in how the new Equality Duty will be implemented.
The changes will remove some government restrictions on public bodies, which will instead be required to set and publish their own methods and results. The changes will free up resources and cut red tape, ministers say.
The Equality Duty, part of the Equality Act, will require all public institutions such as schools, councils and the NHS to actively promote equality. It comes into force in April next year.
Previously, public bodies had to take into account gender, race and disability when employing people and making policy decisions. The new duty adds age, religion and belief, sexual orientation and gender reassignment to this requirement.
Junior equality minister Lynne Featherstone announced today that changes to the duty will put the onus on public bodies to show that they are striving for equality, rather than targets being imposed by government.
She added that the changes would “[empower] the public by giving them the information they need to hold organisations to account”.
Under Labour, the plans would have required all public bodies to publish action plans on how they intend to promote equality and ministers would have decided how institutions should prioritise equality, such as ordering that bodies should focus foremost on closing the gender pay gap, for example.
Now, the government is proposing to give public bodies far more freedom in which equality issues they prioritise and how they go about promoting equal rights. A consultation on the proposals has begun and will run until November.
A Government Equalities Office spokesman said that the changes were “not a let-off” for public bodies, adding that they would be required to set and publish their own equality objectives and regularly publish accurate data that shows how well they are meeting them.
Ms Featherstone said today: “Equality is central to delivering the fair and more efficient public services that support a fairer society. However, in the past equality has too often become a byword for box-ticking and bureaucracy, with public bodies focusing on red tape rather than results.
“The new Equality Duty will change this – instead of the government imposing top-down targets and bureaucratic processes on organisations, we will require them to publish data on their equality results in their services and their workforce, empowering the public by giving them the information they need to hold organisations to account.
“Citizens will be able to see for themselves how a public body is performing on equality, because what really matters is delivering improved, more equal services, not following complicated and expensive procedures.”
A spokesman from gay equality charity Stonewall said: “Stonewall welcomes the commitment to implement this key part of the Equality Act in April 2011. The specific duties will have a significant impact on the lives of lesbian, gay and bisexual people in Britain and Stonewall welcomes the opportunity to contribute to this consultation.”