Agenda item


Purpose of the item: To update the Committee on progress made in equality, diversity, and inclusion (ED&I) at Surrey County Council for its workforce and residents, in advance of a new ED&I Strategy from 2024.




Sinead Mooney, Cabinet Member for Children and Families (EDI Lead Member)

Natalie Bramhall, Cabinet Member for Land and Property

Sarah Kershaw, Chief of Staff, and EDI Lead

Glenn Woodhead, Assistant Director for Facilities Management

Nikki Parkhill, Head of Equality, Diversity & Inclusion

Jonathan Fisher, Chairman – Surrey Coalition of Disabled People


Key points raised during the discussion:


1.    The Surrey Coalition of Disabled People Chairman, as a person who is blind and wears hearing aids, recounted his experience of visiting the Woodhatch building the week before. He commented on an absence of blue badge parking provision near the main entrance. Visually impaired people without sighted assistance had only a low single chain preventing them from walking into a pond. There was no induction loop working at reception, and no tactile fire exit signs or raised pictograms differentiating between toilets. He told how guide dogs had refused to guide their owners on the stairs because the gaps between them were too large. He was surprised these safety issues had not been addressed after two years in the building.


2.    A Member, referring to the Centre for Accessible Environments’ audit report of September 2021, asked why only 10 of 48 recommended  actions classed as immediate had been carried out. The Cabinet Member for Property and Waste responded that outstanding actions at Dakota and Woodhatch Place had been incorporated into other works scheduled to take place, however some had been delayed while they were reviewed and agreed by the Facilities Management Accessibility Forum, recently formed in response to staff with disabilities calling for more consultation. The forum had influenced design briefs for projects such as increasing door widths and installing toilets with appropriate turning circles for wheelchair users, which have had funding approved. Space prohibited providing 24 blue badge spaces at the main entrance; two would be provided there and the rest by the Chamber entrance. Glazed panels would be erected by the open water. Ninety-four per cent of actions at Quadrant Court had been completed though that building was to be vacated in the near future. A new building being purchased was to be ready to occupy by the end of 2023.


3.    Members asked if the Council was breaching the Equality Act in not yet having implemented all recommendations and what the legal, financial and reputational consequences of this were. The Cabinet Member for Property and Waste stated that Woodhatch Place was designed and built to building regulations Approved Document M, which had since been updated but was not retrospective. A Member said the Council’s duties and obligations set out in the Equality Act were broader than compliance with Document M and required that reasonable adjustments were made. The Assistant Director for Facilities Management acknowledged it was important they acted upon the issues raised in a reasonable timeframe. He apologised to Mr Fisher for the sub-standard way he had been received into the building. The majority of issues he raised had been passed at the last meeting of the Facilities Management Accessibility Forum and work had already begun on some, for example an accessible toilet near reception and rising wash basins.


4.    A Member asked what was being done to get more staff from under-represented groups in senior leadership positions, since both disabled and BAME leadership (pay scale 16+) had been zero for the last three years, and 10.1% of staff, but only 6.5% of senior managers (pay scale 13-15), were BAME. The Director for People and Change said this was an action in the People Strategy and they were participating in Solace’s AMPlify programme to support development of diverse talent.


5.    In response to a question on racism, the Chief of Staff said following the incident outside the Ashford school in February they had run a number of listening sessions with minority ethnic staff. A key theme was a feeling there was not the same access to career development. These sessions are planned to continue through a new Tea Break initiative developed by Race Equality Matters. A bullying and harassment policy with a zero-tolerance approach to discriminatory behaviour has also been introduced and training was due to be rolled out for managers to support them in how to apply it. Outputs from the workforce reviews would be available in November 2023 for race and July 2023 for disability, and a LGBTQ+ review was in procurement.  Monitoring of disciplinary processes was continuing to see if underrepresented groups were overrepresented in HR processes, as this may indicate discrimination.


6.    There was a reluctance nationally to share data on ethnicity and disability with employers. The Carers’ Network highlighted this also applied to carers. This was partly caused by a fear it would have an adverse impact on their workplace treatment or promotion prospects. Senior managers were working on how to build trust and viewed an inclusive culture as an essential priority, particularly at a difficult time for recruitment and retention.


7.    The Chief of Staff explained the gender pay gap, which had reduced at the Council to 5.6%, from 11.2% in 2022, was the difference between the average hourly pay of men and women. It arose not because men and women were being paid differently for the same roles, but because there was a tendency for women to carry out lower paid and part time roles, often due to their having other caring responsibilities.


Jonathan Fisher left at 1.10 pm.


Actions/requests for further information:

1)    Share this year’s programme of works, and associated timescales, passed at the meeting of the Facilities Management Accessibility Forum preceding the 22 June select committee meeting (Assistant Director for Facilities Management)


2)    Provide more information on the ED&I steering group, funded to drive change in VCFS organisations, and the provider appointed to lead the trustee work (Head of Equality, Diversity & Inclusion)


3)    Share conclusions of June’s LGA equality peer review with the Committee (Head of Equality, Diversity & Inclusion)


4)    Cllr McCormick to share his thinking on deliverables for the ED&I 2024-25 action plan with the Chief of Staff.





The Resources and Performance Select Committee notes the progress and the ambitions in the report and recommends that: 


1)    The ED&I Lead shares the quarterly reporting on the 2023-24 Action Plan with the Select Committee. These reports should include specific responsibilities and timescales.

2)    The People and Change Directorate and the ED&I Lead use findings from the disabled, minority ethnic and LGBTQ+ workforce reviews to inform plans to enhance recruitment and retention amongst these groups.

3)    The Chief Executive’s Office should (a) work with organisations representing people with lived experience of disability to help them provide work-ready training to people who are disabled and enable them to fill roles at Surrey County Council. The Office should work to remove barriers that prevent people accessing work, and to create opportunities for people to develop skills for the workplace, where needed, and (b) report back to the Committee with timescales for achieving these objectives.

4)    The Cabinet Member for Property and Waste and Assistant Director for Facilities Management share with the Committee the schedule of reasonable adjustments work currently scheduled and (a) accompany representatives of Surrey Coalition of Disabled People and the Select Committee Chairman on a tour of Woodhatch, Dakota and Fairmount House by the end of September 2023 to identify what accessibility issues are encountered, (b) add these to their schedule of works and make findings available to the Select Committee, (c) commit to ensuring these issues are resolved as soon as is reasonably practicable, (d) advise the Select Committee of progress or delay by its February 2024 meeting and, before then, (e) invite the Select Committee Chairman and Vice-Chairmen and Surrey Coalition of Disabled People to inspect work in progress.

5)    The business case for any acquisition of a new council office must include consultation on its accessibility from people with lived experience of disabilities.

Supporting documents: