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Departmental Equality

Volume 471: debated on Thursday 31 January 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how much has been spent by his Department (a) in total and (b) on staff costs on promoting equality and diversity in each of the last three years for which figures are available; and how many people are employed by his Department for this purpose. (173842)

DEFRA has a diversity team in place to develop and implement strategies that actively promote equality and diversity throughout the organisation. The team supports the business to ensure that the DEFRA work force is representative of the wider community and to improve organisational and people management performance as it relates to diversity.

The Department has a duty to comply with current equalities legislation to ensure fairness in our employment practices and in our dealings with those we serve. In particular, we have concentrated on the publication of equality schemes and on training staff to carry out effective equality impact assessments.

Following the 2004 Gershon Report which looked across government for efficiency savings, DEFRA was required to meet significant headcount reductions by March 2008. As a part of the Department’s restructuring staff resources available to work on diversity has been reduced. The number of staff employed in the diversity team has therefore reduced during 2007 from 12 to four. This reduction has been achieved by mainstreaming diversity throughout the organisation and ensuring that the new team adopts a strategic focus.

The total budget for the diversity team in 2004-05 was £499,000. This reduced to £470,000 for 2005-06, and to £368,000 for 2006-07. Forecast expenditure for 2007-08 is in the region of £330,000.

The staffing costs in these three years were £346,000, £357,000 and £297,000. Current staffing costs for 2007-08 are expected to be in the region of £260,000.

Throughout 2007, DEFRA has taken significant action in relation to its statutory responsibilities as set out in equalities legislation on age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation or transgender status. Consultancy costs were circ. £50,000 to ensure the compliance of our disability, race and gender equality schemes.

DEFRA’s diversity team has been working to put equality at the centre of policy making, strategic planning, service delivery and employment practice. Some of the responsibilities under the legislation include carrying out equality impact assessments, publishing equality schemes (race, gender and disability) and publishing annual employment monitoring reports.

An equalities impact assessment process has been developed and embedded into the Department’s policy and project planning processes. There has also been a significant investment in the training of decision makers and policy makers in the use of the DEFRA equality impact assessment tool. This tool enables the potential impact that a policy, process or function may have on different groups to be assessed and addressed, both retrospectively and predicatively.

There has also been activity to support the progression of under-represented groups in senior management positions, and make progress against the 10 point plan for a diverse civil service. For example, the Department has developed and run positive action mentoring programmes for women, ethnic minority and disabled staff.

Other training products developed include ‘Looking Beyond the Difference’, a multi-media blended learning solution that is used by individuals and groups to raise diversity awareness and ensure that DEFRA is a place where people respect and value each other.

A number of staff networks are supported by the diversity team. There are networks for: ethnic minority staff; disabled staff; lesbian gay, bisexual and transgender; and work-life balance. These networks are made up of volunteers from around the organisation, who provide a support mechanism for their members and a rich source of advice to the Department. The diversity team allocates approximately £15,000 each year for the work of the staff networks. The cost of making reasonable adjustments for disabled staff is also met from the diversity budget.