Nicola Sturgeon plans to revive legal duty on public bodies to reduce inequalities
A legal requirement forcing public bodies to try to reduce inequalities will be introduced if the SNP return to government, Nicola Sturgeon has said six years on from the measure being mothballed.
The socio-economic duty, which was contained in the 2010 Equality Act passed by Gordon Brown’s Labour government, set out a legal duty on public authorities to consider the impact that their decisions will have on narrowing socio-economic inequalities.
However, the provision was ditched by the UK Government after the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats entered coalition back in 2010. Home Secretary Theresa May labelled the law “as ridiculous as it was simplistic”.
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Sturgeon, who was addressing the STUC conference in Dundee, said: “We need to harness the efforts of all of society - including the public, private and third sectors - to work towards the common goal of an equal and prosperous country.
“That is why, as soon as we have the powers to do so, we will commence the socio-economic duty contained in the Equalities Act 2010 to require all public bodies to evaluate their policies against the duty to reduce inequalities.”
Sturgeon also confirmed that the SNP will accept all 15 recommendations made by her independent poverty adviser, Naomi Eisenstadt, earlier this year. The First Minister had previously said the Scottish Government would formally respond to Eisenstadt’s recommendations on tackling inequality by the end of March.
However, a response failed to materialise before parliament broke up for the election with Social Justice Secretary Alex Neil telling a Holyrood hustings earlier this month that it had been delayed until after the election.
Sturgeon said: “We did not argue for the new powers to use them in search of one day’s headlines, we argued for them so we could address the poverty and worklessness that has lingered in some of our communities for far too long.
“We will publish a Fairer Scotland Action Plan, bringing together all of our actions to tackle poverty and inequalities. The Action Plan will be informed by the recommendations of the poverty adviser - which we will implement in full - and the Fair Work Convention, where trade unions have played such an important part.”
An independent adviser on poverty and inequality will be reappointed, the SNP leader pledged, while a Poverty and Inequality Commission will be set up to “measure and monitor the progress made across all portfolios and all parts of Scotland” in tackling poverty.
The First Minister vowed that fees for employment tribunals will be scrapped once powers are passed to Holyrood amid claims the current set-up restricts access to justice.
Sturgeon added: “While many local authorities, to their credit, have taken action to deliver equal pay, some continue to lag behind. A re-elected SNP government will look to apply penalties to any council that does not honour their obligation to deliver equal pay.”
The SNP leader was addressing the conference a day after Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said her party’s policies on taxation as well as public ownership of railways and ferries would echo the anti-austerity priorities of trade unionists.
Scottish Labour deputy leader and campaign manager Alex Rowley said: “Whilst the SNP’s tax plans have been branded ‘pathetic’ by the General Secretary of the STUC, Labour will use the powers to ask the top 1 per cent to pay more, with a 50p top rate of tax for people earning over £150,000 a year to invest in education.
“Labour would also halt the privatisation process of the CalMac ferries and fight to keep them in public hands. By contrast Nicola Sturgeon refused to use the front door of the STUC to avoid protestors.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie claimed the SNP is “frozen to the spot” on a number of policy areas, including income tax, local tax and education.
“By refusing to be bold on local taxation and by refusing to use income tax powers to make a transformational investment in education, they are not offering an alternative to austerity,” he said.
“They are pretending their hands are tied, preferring to point a finger down the road to Westminster instead of using the new powers coming to Holyrood they’ve spent decades campaigning for.”
Meanwhile, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson delivered a speech in Perth in which she claimed the SNP administration “would make Alastair Campbell blush”, a reference to the former Labour spin doctor.
Davidson said: “Too often this SNP government has been one which puts sticking plaster over the many fundamental issues we need to tackle. Too often this SNP government has sought to tackle problems or face controversy by just trying to bury them – or by bullying people into silence.”