“Bristol City Council has made significant progress in taking forward its equality agenda for both the organisation and the city”. That’s according to a new independent peer review by the Local Government Association, which acknowledges the council as one which is increasingly seen as a national leader on equality and inclusion. However, it acknowledges that the council is still on a journey of improvement and needs to apply its good practice more systematically to make a lasting difference.
The new report, set to be discussed at a Full Council meeting this afternoon, forms part of a wider update on the council’s overall progress against its Equality and Inclusion Strategy, as well as the results of an additional Advancing Equality and Inclusion Action Plan which was put in place last year.
It is part of a drive to dismantle structural racism, prioritise race equality and become a national exemplar for inclusive practice across the board. Despite the additional challenge of also responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, the council has already completed, or is underway with, 63 of the 68 total actions.
Over the past financial year, actions taken by the council cover an extensive range of changes and improvements to recruitment practice, strategies and leadership. This includes using positive action principles to increase diversity in the council’s workforce and creating opportunities for under-represented groups to move into more senior roles. They also sought to address the context of COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement, their impact in the city and their implications for working practices within the Council.
The report comes a year after Bristol became the first major city to publish its ethnicity and disabled employees pay gaps as well as its gender pay gap. The council’s pay gap reporting will now include LGBT+ for the first time, as well as gender, race and disability, making the authority a national leader on transparent pay gap reporting. Together, the package of reports shines a light on the council’s progress towards improving equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI, or sometimes E&I) performance and embedding positive practices. They also highlight challenges that still face the authority as it works to tackle structural and institutional racism, improve overall performance and change its organisational culture – a long term process that began in 2016 following major changes in leadership.
Cllr Asher Craig, Deputy Mayor of Bristol and lead for equalities, said:
“These reports continue to showcase our openness about the journey we are on. We want to improve our culture and make this authority one which is truly inclusive and that is never an easy thing to do. Our commitment to peer review and reporting annually on equality and inclusion continues to help us evaluate the progress we have made in recent years, particularly in facing head-on the kind of race equality challenges that have been centuries in the making.
“We will use the interventions within these reports to drive behaviour change, to boost our activities even further and to bring the city with us as partners to improve conditions across Bristol. We must continue to pursue further change and these reports should strengthen our resolve to stay the course.”
Mike Jackson, Chief Executive of Bristol City Council, said:
“This organisation is determined to be transparent. The LGA report which forms part of this pack in particular highlights how the organisation is now a leader in these areas. We aim to reach even higher standards of equality and inclusion practice in all that we do and we’ve worked hard and made good progress towards this, but we know that there is still more to do.
“In particular, we want to continue to actively address our everyday practice and systems that inadvertently lead to a lack of opportunity or fairness for black, Asian and other colleagues from minority ethnic backgrounds. Structural inequality also affects women, disabled employees, our younger staff and LGBTQ+ colleagues and we are working hard to improve things for everyone.
“These reports continue to help us take even more practical action to put equality and inclusion at the heart of everything we do.”
Chairman of the Local Government Association’s Improvement and Innovation Board, Councillor Peter Fleming, said:
“Councils play a pivotal role in leading the way for more inclusive, and diverse organisations that will be able to better support and create good relationships between their communities and promote opportunities. Bristol City Council welcomed in a team of peers from the sector, opened themselves to challenge, and the published LGA report shares not only the council’s strengths, but areas for development too. Through such means the council demonstrates its commitment to improve and the sector can share the learning arising from this. Bristol City Council has demonstrated that with dedication, openness to challenge and collective action, progress can be made quickly, to create long-lasting change.”
Highlights of some of the actions listed in this year’s Equalities and Inclusion Annual Report 2020-2021 and associated reports includes progress in the following ways:
- Creating an improved process and training for how the council assess the impacts of decisions on different demographic groups protected by law under the Equality Act 2010, known as Equality Impact Assessments or EqIAs.
- Monthly face-to-face meetings with officers to discuss the equality impact assessment forms and processes.
- Online e-learning modules have also been created on the same subject; it is now mandatory for all managers to learn about EqIAs
- Refreshing governance of staff led groups; 72 per cent of staff are now aware of staff led groups compared to 65 per cent in 2019.
- Continued to carry out findings from the Transforming Race and Equality Report delivered in July 2020. These findings involve monitoring 68 new actions to improve equality, diversity, and inclusion.
- Undertaking an independent LGA peer review of equalities and inclusion work in March 2021.
- Working with Stonewall to review activities through Workplace Equality Index Support sessions.
- Creating 42 E&I champions internally within services and 12 E&I champions within senior directorates. These responsibilities support all E&I work.
- Rolling out Cultural Intelligence workshops for managers for the first time, continuing to promote them in coming months.
- 78 per cent of staff indicated that they are ‘treated with dignity and respect’; an increase from 73 per cent in 2019.
- 77 per cent of staff indicated that they are ‘able to be myself in the workplace’; an increase from 73 per cent in 2019.
- 81 per cent of staff indicated that ‘I am treated fairly as an employee of Bristol City Council’; up from 76 per cent in 2019.
Some areas will require continued efforts to improve:
- The gap between the average (79.8 per cent) and the most deprived areas (49.1 per cent) who are satisfied with their local area is a stark reflection of the very different experience Bristol residents have had of COVID-19 depending on where they live. COVID-19 has shone a spotlight on the inequality of the city – and this reflects inequality of place. 'Deprived' communities are those people living with the greatest inequality caused by poverty and other systemic inequality. All evidence shows they have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic in terms of crowded accommodation, high-rise flats, close proximity to others, less satisfaction with parks and general environment, poverty, and limited access to local amenities and essentials. There are a number of initiatives across the council seeking to make improvements. To make faster progress we need to bring these into a focused place-based approach working alongside communities. Digital exclusion has also caused disconnection and real isolation and lack of ability for involvement within their communities. One of the impacts of systemic discrimination is lack of trust or desire to engage with authorities such as the council, or mainstream media. For some people, communication through these main communication routes during the pandemic have not always been accessible. There is a reliance on trusted informal community networks and social spaces, which were not always available due to lockdown. We have worked with external communications, neighbourhood teams and external partners to address these issues – leading to relative success of vaccine uptake. This needs to continue to build.
- In 2019-20 Black, Asian and minority ethnic employees were proportionally under-represented on higher salary bands. The councils race pay gap analysis indicates that mean pay for White British employees is 9.78 per cent higher than that of Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff (was 15.38 per cent in 2017), and the median pay for White British employees is 16.0 per cent higher than that of Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff. Improvements have been made in the progression rates (promotions) of Black, Asian and minority ethnic employees, despite a reduction in overall job offers.
- We need a more integrated approach to Equality and Inclusion and to adopt a ‘programme’ approach to how it is set-up and monitored. This will enable greater join-up, transparency and a more effective approach to monitoring and analysing impact in a meaningful way.
- Embedding the Governance structure so that it is a recognised and well utilised framework for addressing Equality and Inclusion issues will require ongoing commitment.