David Cameron has been quite insistent upon the need to cut red tape and the latest legislation in the firing line has been the Public Sector Equality Duties. For those who don’t know, the Public Sector Equality Duties were originally brought in during 2007 but were extended in 2011 and are applicable to the public sector and its supply chain – which is where it gets interesting for us working in the sector.
The duties place an obligation on those funded through the public purse to adhere to the recommendations mention right. : –
Eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation and other conduct prohibited by the Equality Act 2010
Advance equality of opportunity between people from different groups
Foster good relations between people from different groups.
…Which is why we have seen a rise in the number of equality and diversity questions on PQQs. The review of the duties found that they should remain even though they were found to be often misunderstood and therefore likely to result in a tick-box scheme when it came down to procurement. I would go further, in that at times they became a tick-box scheme that clashed with requirements leaving contractors entirely confused about what it is the client is really after.
The review though seems to have struck some interesting points and, whilst some public bodies thought the duties were helping them support small/medium contractors to win contract work, small/medium contractors were much of the opinion that it was doing the very opposite.
Hence the recommendations on the right
Public bodies must reduce the burdens placed on small employers
- Public bodies should remove Pre-Qualification Questionnaires (PQQs) for contracts below £100k and utilise the government’s core PQQ, which does not include equality requirements, for contracts over this amount.
- Public bodies should not impose onerous or disproportionate requirements on contractors delivering services (particularly those with fewer than 50 employees) to provide equality data on workforce and service users.
Public bodies should be challenged where their procurement processes create barriers for small businesses and charities
- Private and voluntary sector employers in England should refer any potentially inappropriate equality requirements that have been applied to a particular procurement exercise to the Cabinet Office Mystery Shopper scheme.
Now of course this doesn’t mean that PQQ’s will disappear overnight, if at all. But it does give some strength to the argument that the way equality is currently being assessed is not necessarily right for the sector.
While we hope that the industry’s already positive uptake of the CITB Be Fair Pilot will support the message to the public sector that the industry is capable of producing its own solutions which move away from a tick-box mentality, there is still a way to go before the industry is seen as able to overcome its challenges around equality without being specifically instructed by organisations with completely different considerations.
Which is why it is evermore important to champion good independent practice and help our clients see that though as a sector we do not claim to be perfect, we can be a whole lot better when asked to come up with solutions that fit rather than being prescribed with labours that don’t.