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Diversity warning on staff cutbacks

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Management streamlining aimed at helping councils through the spending squeeze is likely to hamper efforts to improve diversity among senior local authority officers, a report has warned.

The Local Government Association Group’s Workforce Strategy 2010 calls for care to be taken to ensure that councils do not harm their diversity profiles.

The report reminds councils of the need to undertake equality impact assessments to assess the impact of changes on the level of female, black or minority ethnic staff. And it predicts the reduction in management posts is “likely to make it more difficult for councils to significantly improve their senior diversity profiles”.

Joan Munro, head of workforce strategy at the Improvement & Development Agency, part of the LGA Group, said councils needed to “be careful” that a by-product of downsizing was not the loss of layers of under-represented staff.

She said that exploring secondment opportunities for staff whose posts needed to be removed but who were still wanted could be one way to maintain councils’ diversity balances.

Gareth Daniel, chief executive at Brent LBC, which has one of the most diverse staffing profiles in local government, said that better career development and succession planning opportunities for staff could help.

“Like many councils, Brent is reducing its management workforce but we are taking steps to ensure adverse diversity impacts are avoided,” he said. “It would be a tragedy if local government’s hard-earned reputation as an equal opportunities employer was placed at risk by ill-considered cuts packages.”

Huw Rolant Jones, human resources partner at law firm Eversheds, said another reason councils should be diligent was to head off potential unfair dismissal cases.

“Councils need to be mindful that they take an approach that is not based on grounds that could give rise to an unfair dismissal case, and that any decisions are made for objective business reasons,” he said.

He added that the more senior staff were, the more important personal factors such as gender or ethnicity potentially became.

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