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INFORMATION REPORT - Part 2 of Annual Equality in Employment Report for 1 April 2013 - 31 March 2014

Report of the Divisional Director of Human Resources, Development and Shared Services.

Minutes:

The Forum received a report of the Divisional Director of HRD & Shared Services which set out the key issues identified from the 2013/14 equalities in employment data, a revised Action Plan for addressing priority issues highlighted by the data and a review of the Conduct and Dignity at Work cases and equalities workforce data.

 

Following comments from a Representative, an officer advised that lack of IT facilities available to staff at the Depot was a long standing issue, which management were seeking to address.  This included plans to develop a staff Extranet, which would enable staff to access employment information online.

 

Following a question from the Chair, an officer advised that it was important to build up a more complete picture of the workforce profile and often staff with disabilities did not declare this on monitoring forms.  The Council’s recruitment process was designed to be open and transparent and it had an adjustments policy in relation to disabled staff.

 

Following a question from a Member, the Divisional Director of HRD and Shared Services advised that the Council was increasingly moving to online modes of communication but would ensure alternative modes of access for those residents without access to IT.

 

A Representative stated that, in his view, there was a social divide in Britain that had been increasing steadily as a result of policies implemented by successive administrations on both a national and local level.  Efficiencies and cuts implemented by the council in recent years inevitably had a greater impact on those staff on lower grades.  These efficiencies and cuts had not been implemented in an open and transparent manner and their implications had not been fully explored.  Furthermore, the Council operated a covert pay structure, in that highly paid interims and agency staff received higher salaries than those on permanent contracts.  This was not an isolated incident and these discrepancies impacted on Council services.  The officer report should therefore have included a socio-economic impact assessment.  The only way to address these issues would be to instigate a change in culture and institutional behaviours at the Council. 

 

The Divisional Director stated that the report concerned itself with the protected characteristics set out in Equalities legislation and did not therefore include a socio-economic impact assessment.  He added that he would be pleased to discuss this further with the representative outside the meeting.  The Leader added that such an impact assessment would be difficult to measure and quantify, however, the issues raised by the Representative were of great concern and he would be looking into this further and would welcome further discussions with the Representative.

 

A Representative asked why a review of the Conduct and Dignity at Work cases in 2013/14 had not been carried out as in the previous year.  The Divisional Director advised that his service would continue to record and report on employment procedures on the basis of protected characteristics, to both the Corporate Equalities Group and to the Forum.  However, it would not be in a position to resource an annual, in-depth review as in 2012/13. 

 

A Representative asked why large sums of money were being spent on engaging agency staff, when permanent jobs were being cut.  The Leader stated that the numbers of temps and interims had been significantly reduced following a review.  However, some difficult to fill posts providing essential services, such as social workers and staff in Public Realm, had been retained.

 

A Member stated that the Council was moving away from duplication of services and silo management and advised that since 2012, a total of 212 posts had been lost and 68 new posts filled.  There were benefits associated with the use of agency workers.  The number of agency staff in Access Harrow and Business Support, and the number of interims and consultants generally had been reduced.  However, those with specialist skill sets, such as IT contract negotiation, the Corporate Director of Children and Families had been engaged.  The Council was focussing on staff training and development to build up the skills sets of staff.

 

Following a question from a Member, the Divisional Director advised that schools were able to advertise posts through using the Council’s recruitment service but that they carried out the applicant administration, short listing and interview process themselves, and data relating to the schools workforce was reported separately  from data relating to the rest of the workforce.

 

A Member emphasised the importance of helping staff to understand the importance of completing monitoring forms and providing personal data and how this data would be used to plan the future workforce strategy and support disabled staff.  He added that cultural and linguistic differences may be the reason why a high proportion of BAME staff were involved in employment procedures.

 

The Chair requested that the next Equalities report should provide data about the number of retirements due to ill health.  The Divisional Director undertook to provide this information and stated that retirement on the grounds of ill health was likely to increase as the Council had an ageing workforce.

 

Following a question from a Representative regarding apprenticeships, an officer advised that this initiative was in its early stages and that there was a strategy and action plan in place.   Eight directly employed apprentices had been appointed under the scheme.  The Council was working with organisations undertaking work for the Council to encourage them to take on apprentices, and with colleges, to increase the number of apprentices across Harrow.  The Chair advised that 3 previous apprentices, had now secured full-time positions in the Housing section.

 

A Representative asked why the Council did not attract applications from younger people.  The Divisional Director advised that this was a long-standing issue and was due to a number of factors.  There was no longer a compulsory retirement age and recruitment had slowed.  The recruitment process put an emphasis on qualifications and experience, as there was a legislative requirement to appoint staff on the basis of merit, which potentially disadvantaged younger applicants and discouraged younger people from applying.  He added that Harrow had one of the lowest numbers of NEETs in London (young people not in employment or education).

 

RESOLVED:  That the report be noted.

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