Inexcusable: The woeful state of diversity

By Chris Naylor and Nazeya Hussain | 15 November 2023

More than half of councils don’t have a full view of the ethnic makeup of their workforce and the sector and no region in the UK has a workforce that reflects the communities they serve.

Yet at the same time it is facing a recruitment crisis, a capacity crisis and a breakdown in trust in public services. It is time to join the dots.
Last month Solace published its latest equity, diversity and inclusion report: Understanding and Improving Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in the Local Government Workforce across the UK: A Spotlight on Data Collection and Good Practice. 

The research, funded and supported by Solace in Business and undertaken by Shared Intelligence, comes a year after our first report found the sector was making painfully slow progress in building representative teams.
The results, covering 317 councils across England, Scotland and Wales, are depressing:

  • Only 49% of councils are publishing data on the ethnic makeup of their workforce. Thirty seven per cent are publishing partial data and 14% no data at all. The picture is skewed because publication in Scotland is a legal requirement. Colleagues north of the border are dragging our collective statistics up.
  • An even lower proportion of councils are publishing ethnicity pay gap data – to the extent that beyond a few anecdotal inferences it is not possible to draw any sector-wide conclusions about any disparity or otherwise in terms of pay. But it is a safe bet to assume that if the data isn’t being collected, the picture is not a pretty one. 
  • Most damning of all – where full representation data has been published, no region in England, Scotland or Wales has a workforce that reflects the communities they serve.

At this point in the article, you might expect us to reiterate why this matters. But the fact that we are still having to do this should shame the sector too. We are local government – a sector that exists to represent and serve. But we don’t represent and are struggling to serve. 
We speak of the need for equality and yet more than half our sector demonstrates ambivalence by not even bothering to properly baseline the extent of the challenge within our own organisations.
Less than three years ago we collectively made a commitment to be better. The Covid-19 pandemic revealed and widened inequalities of our economy and society that had been hidden in plain sight. 
The Black Lives Matter movement sparked a wider understanding of structural racism that exposed the need for urgent reform. We were shocked and shamed. We solemnly declared we would right this wrong. Then, during 2022, Solace collected testimony from our black professional colleagues such as this:
‘I had to navigate through many challenges, well before I actually started on my career journey. Then, when my career began, having the ability to see myself in roles more senior to myself when most people in those roles did not look like me, was really very limited.
‘Your parents and family try hard to protect you and manage your expectations in life, having experienced many barriers themselves. The experiences they did share are etched on your mind. It was a well-used mantra: “You have to work twice as hard to get half as far.”’
Trust is a commodity that is hard won and easily lost. Reiterating how much we care about something while presenting a report showing we are doing little to nothing about it is not just risking a loss of trust, but embedding a far deeper sense of betrayal. 
Last year, Solace published a statement of intent – words that included an intention to publish data. Just one year in to our action plan, we as a sector have failed it. It is inexcusable. The next 12 months must show a marked improvement. 
Councils are battling now to rise to immense 21st century challenges and to prove they are capable of building 21st century responses. 
The very purpose of local government is in the balance right now as a tidal wave of demand and need threatens to wash away essential local services and structures. Councils who make it through will be the councils who understand that inequality is cause and consequence of the pressures on them – and tackling it starts with being honest about what they don’t yet know, don’t yet see and don’t yet properly understand. 
At the very least this must start with councils collecting information. Unless you know – how do you know where to act. 

Nazeya Hussain and Chris Naylor are non-executive directors at Solace, and leads on diversity and inclusion

X – @Solace_UK

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