Investment and equality – lessons from Scotland

Posted by Tessa Wright on 21 February 2023

Chris Oswald

Economic Recovery & English Regions, Equality & Human Rights Commission and Member of Project Advisory Board

The recent announcement of £2.1bn Levelling Up (LU) funding is good news for local economies. Overall 111 places across the UK will benefit from the funds, securing on average £20m to support local development, infrastructure, heritage or skills.

But, the LU fund is explicitly about place-based regeneration. Neither the prospectus nor the application process emphasised the need to ensure that local citizens benefit equally from these investments. This is a problem because many of the funded projects are construction or tech heavy, both areas of the economy which are dominated by men.[i]

The need to eliminate discrimination and advance equality of opportunity under the General Equality Duty (GED)[ii] will apply to these funds, and to the procurement processes which will contract with suppliers. In its prospectus, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities did remind applicants that the GED applied but at no point in the application process did they ask applicants how the GED will be met, and particularly how recipients will advance equality in highly-segregated sectors. This is important because without positive action there is a danger that women, disabled people and people from ethnic minorities will not see the benefits of employment and training opportunities from these funds. Given the disproportionate levels of unemployment and poverty amongst these groups,[iii] at best this could be described as a missed opportunity.

However, work that the Equality & Human Rights Commission has been doing in Scotland and Wales, and more recently with Combined Authorities in England, shows how equality issues can be successfully integrated into investment and economic development work uniting both place and people priorities.

The Commission was concerned that the £5bn City Region Deals (CRDs) being rolled out in Scotland did not have a strong equality component. The investment promised to create 80,000 new jobs, but as with the LU funds many of these jobs would be in sectors which had very poor diversity profiles. And as with LU, the concern was that without intervention these investments could inadvertently widen equality gaps, not narrow them.

The Commission went into partnership with the Scottish Government and worked closely with the 12 City Region Deals in Scotland for the next 3 years. Initially the focus was on ensuring that Scottish Government processes were in place. The annual grant letter was amended to stress that making progress on equality and socio-economic inequality was central to the delivery of this work. This was coupled with a requirement to submit draft Equality Impact Assessments (EQIAs) as each project was being negotiated and a final version later. The Scottish Government was able to require further information and greater detail if they felt this was missing.

Alongside this, the Commission and the Scottish Government provided practical advice and assistance to the City Region Deals on what was expected of them and how to achieve it. A number of resources were developed to help them write inclusive business cases and training was offered on EQIAs. Some of these resources are available on the Scottish Hub for Regional Economic Development website.[iv]

Whilst it is too early to announce transformative practice – the CRD’s are after all 15-year investments – there has been some notable progress.

Greater Glasgow Sustainable Procurement Strategy

The Greater Glasgow City Region Deal is funded by £1.13bn of investment from the UK Government, the Scottish Government and the eight local authorities in the area. One of the Deal’s primary aims is to tackle unemployment and low skills by creating 39,000 new jobs and 15,000 additional training places particularly aimed at “vulnerable” communities and 16-24 year olds.

Taken together the eight partner authorities have an annual procurement budget of over £2bn and the aim of the sustainable procurement strategy was to maximise the impact of this spend, and £1.3bn of City Region Deal money, on the region’s most deprived communities. The strategy embraces the “principles of Community Wealth Building, Fair Work First, promotes the living wage, maximises opportunities for social enterprises and support(s) the creation of a resilient skills and training pipeline across education and training providers”.[v]

Every procurement exercise conducted by the partnership aims to promote employment and training for people in the most deprived parts of the region. Additionally, the strategy commits the partners to target community benefits on young people, women with primary care roles, disabled people, ethnic minorities, and people experiencing poverty and deprivation. These are groups who are known to “disproportionately experience disadvantage and inequality within our region to gain skills, employment and career progression”.[vi] Looking ahead, the partners are aiming to address key issues such as low pay and the gender pay gap by promoting fair employment practices amongst the businesses they support.

Edinburgh & South East Scotland Benefits Realisation Plans[vii]

The approach taken by Edinburgh & SE Scotland to equality has been impressive. Working on the basis that if it isn’t monitored and reported it’s less likely to happen – something all too common when equality is viewed as being nice to do, but not core – the Deal embedded equality indicators into their annual Benefits Realisation reporting. Put simply, achieving x number of new skills entrants would not be sufficient if it simply replicated the existing diversity profiles. The need to advance equality of opportunity became key to operational success. Importantly the theory of change[viii] adopted had five key impact areas – “sustained employment; SIMD [Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation] ranking uplifts; returns on investment; increases in recruitment from under-represented groups; and, sustainable transport improvements” all based on inclusive growth principles.

The Edinburgh approach is important because it makes a reality of inclusive growth in practical and measurable terms. It recognises the problems of “pure growth” economics by adopting an approach which “…specifically highlights the need for putting people at the centre of policy and moving away from an attitude of ‘grow first, redistribute and clean up later’ towards a growth model that is equitable and sustainable from the outset”.[ix]

The Edinburgh Plan has been influential in Scotland and beyond, particularly on the Ayrshire Deal where it complements their pioneering approach to Community Wealth Building. Its influence can also be seen in emerging work by the Cardiff and North Wales Regional Deals.

So, whilst the Levelling Up agenda is one which is squarely focussed on place, we can see practice in Scotland and Wales where the all-important people issue is successfully factored in. Encouragingly, around a third of all local authorities in England have now voluntarily adopted the socio-economic duty,[x] including many of the Combined Authorities, and it is likely that increased devolution in England will take the place plus people approach. This is good news not just for “left behind communities” but also for “left behind people”, too many of whom are concentrated in the most deprived neighbourhoods and the most deprived sections of our society.

[i] What construction can do to drive diversity in the sector COIB, 2020. Diversity and inclusion in UK tech, Tech Nation 2021

[ii] The GED (EA 2010 Sct 149) requires listed bodies to eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good community relations across their functions. In Scotland & Wales the Socio Economic Duty (EA 2010 S.1) also requires them to pay due regard to reduce disparities in outcomes caused by deprivation.

[iii] Child poverty facts and figures, CPAG, 2022

[iv] Scottish Hub for Regional Economic Development

[v]  p.3

[vi]  p.13

[vii] Edinburgh & South East Scotland Benefits Realisation Plans, 2020

[viii] See for example here

[ix] OECD 2019 quoted in Inclusive growth: what does it look like? Scottish Government 2020.

[x] Greater Manchester Poverty Action 2022, The current scale of the socio-economic duty in England (June 2022)

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