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WORK LIFE - LOOKING BEYOND NUMBERS

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London has the largest black population in the country, so race is a significant issue for the capital. But while m...
London has the largest black population in the country, so race is a significant issue for the capital. But while many equate race with diversity,

it actually involves many more issues - particularly in rural areas where age, access and isolation are significant.

In delivering user-focused public services it is essential these differences are understood. If certain sections of the community are unable to access services, the public sector is - by definition - not delivering. An important challenge then is for local government managers to equip the workforce to respond to the diverse needs of every community in the area.

Managing and responding to diversity means looking beyond just numbers. Ensuring staff demography is a proportional match of the ethnic or age make-up of the local population

is not the key. What is more fundamental is whether staff are able to assess and respond to the needs of the community. We need to develop the capacity to embrace difference as a positive value.

This requires a crucial cultural shift. Taking services to the public needs commitment and a willingness to open services up to criticism through consultation. In order to improve effectiveness, we have to build better in-roads, networks and partnerships with other agencies.

The Audit Commission is going through this process, in tandem with our local government clients. While not comfortable, it is vital if organisations delivering public services are to ensure they are relevant to local people.

The commission's own drive on user-focus and diversity has involved some soul-searching, which has resulted in the decision to create two new posts - a head of diversity and a head of user-focus. As head of diversity, my remit covers external support and enhancing the commission's internal approaches.

As public service managers enable people to come forward with their needs and ideas, it is important to work towards being exemplars of consultative and inclusive approaches that promote diversity. If staff do not feel their own views have any bearing on how the organisation functions, they are unlikely to respond proactively to the diverse needs of local people.

Loraine Martins

Head of diversity, Audit Commission

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