Library Service Provision and the Equality Duty

Tue 28 November 2017

Northamptonshire County Council are currently consulting on the future of their library services and are proposing to close all of their small libraries, and possibly all of their medium libraries. These are notes I'm collecting to help determine how the public sector equality duty might be relevant to the proposed changes.

The Public Sector Equality Duty

The Public Sector Equality Duty is laid out in §149 of the Equality Act 2010: The relevant bits seem to be:

  1. Having due regard to the need to advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it involves having due regard, in particular, to the need to—
    1. remove or minimise disadvantages suffered by persons who share a relevant protected characteristic that are connected to that characteristic;
    2. take steps to meet the needs of persons who share a relevant protected characteristic that are different from the needs of persons who do not share it;
    3. encourage persons who share a relevant protected characteristic to participate in public life or in any other activity in which participation by such persons is disproportionately low.
  1. The relevant protected characteristics are—
    • age;
    • disability;
    • gender reassignment;
    • pregnancy and maternity;
    • race;
    • religion or belief;
    • sex;
    • sexual orientation.

The whole thing isn't long, so it's probably worth you reading it in its entirety.

As applied to libraries

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport have useful guidance on providing library services, which talks about the equality duty.

Other interesting bits include:

"The key is reasonable ability to access the service by all residents of the county. This means that distances and time taken to reach a library must be reasonable and any particular problems, whether physical disabilities, or created by age or family considerations, must be capable of being met."

"Budgetary constraints are a material consideration."

"In all cases, it is useful to consider methods for mitigating adverse impact."

"In assessing the needs of local communities, councils can provide evidence on usage analysed by protected groups, by ward and catchment area. They can also provide s a comparative analysis of needs to understand the implications of any relocation of library facilities on vulnerable communities."

Sue Charteris has a presentation on Creating a Comprehensive Library Service - Getting the Equality Duty Right. We're reminded that services have to be comprehensive and efficient, which again reinforces that budgetary constraints may be a consideration. There should also be a thorough needs assessment for all protected groups. The presentation has a worked example:

Lambeth Council's Libraries Commission was provided with evidence on:

  • Usage analysed by race, gender, disability, age, sexual orientation per catchment area

The council used this data and an analysis of borough wide needs to do an analysis of comparative geographic need to best understand the implications of any relocation of library facilities on vulnerable communities within Lambeth.

Again, the whole presentation is worth reading.

Northamptonshire's Equality Impact Assessment

The proposal has an equality impact assessment compiled by First for Wellbeing's Service Delivery Manager, and signed off by First for Wellbeing's Managing Director. First for Wellbeing "is a Community Interest Company (CIC) - a social enterprise set up specifically to service the needs of the local community."

The methodology used by the equality impact assessment is as follows:

  • Use demographic data collected by individual libraries on their users
  • Compare the demographic data for libraries proposed for closure against the same data for all libraries in the county.

These data show that protected characteristics are fairly equally distributed across the county, e.g. that there are proportionately just as many people with disabilities proposed for closure as in the county as a whole.

On the basis of this, the impact assessment makes the claim:

There are no groups of library members who are disproportionately impacted by these proposals when compared to all library members

This is patently false. These groups are just as likely to be subject to a library closure as the general population, but they may still be disproportionately impacted by such a closure. For example, a person with a disability who cannot drive and has a limited bus service is going to be disproportionately impacted by a closure than someone with their own transport.

The impact assessment does not in any way consider the needs of groups with protected characteristics, nor consider how the impact on these groups can be mitigated.

Useful contextual information