Headlines: July 8th, 2003

Local authorities have been told they need to act to improve diversity and equality. The message, from the Local Government Minister, Phil Hope, follows government research which says there are many examples of good working practices across the country but the nationwide picture is patchy and more needs to be done.The research, carried out by the Office of Public Management, highlights a number of obstacles to effective handling of equality and diversity issues. It finds that equality and diversity are often seen in terms of ethnic minorities and people with physical disabilities rather than looking at wider issues such as gender, sexuality and part-time working.

It says too that there is a lack of a joined up approach within local government to handling equality and diversity issues. The focus is on employment issues rather than the wider agenda and councils also focus on process rather than outcomes. It is not enough, says the research, to appoint a ‘diversity officer’, councils also need to make sure their policies are having an effect

Phil Hope announced a series of seminars to help local government tackle the problems shown up by the research, which was carried out over a month period and focused on three core areas – representation, participation and leadership. It also looked at structures and staff and finally at service procurement, delivery and impact. The research report has been published with the support of the Local Government Association, the Employers’ Organisation and the Audit Commission.

Mr. Hope said the government was not paying lip service to the ideals of diversity and equality it wanted there to be real change and for councils to reflect the communities they served.