In a speech this week at the Confederation of British Industry ("CBI") conference, David Cameron is, in his words, "calling time" on equality impact assessments under the Equality Act 2010 ("the Act"). Although conceding that the Act was "not a bad piece of legislation", Mr Cameron opined that the Government was going too far by conducting equality impact assessments "for every decision" made by it, calling this "bureaucratic nonsense". Instead, the Government will seek to rely on "smart people in Whitehall who consider equalities issues while they're making the policy". Finally, Mr Cameron told the delegates that "you no longer have to do [equality impact assessments] if these issues have been properly considered".
Of course, Mr Cameron's words have no legislative effect and the Government, local authorities and other specified bodies are still subject to the Section 149 of the Act, and, in Scotland, the Equality Act 2010 (Specific Duties) (Scotland) Regulations 2012. Given the powers of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission ("EHRC") to assess compliance with the obligations, it would be a brave public authority who decided to rely solely upon its own smart people and not comply with the duty to overtly assess the impact of applying a proposed new or revised policy or practice in light of its obligations under the Act.
It remains to be seen if this pronouncement will turn to policy and the repeal of the duties, but given the terms of Mr Cameron's speech, it may apply only to central government. The proposition is also perhaps somewhat circular– effectively it seems that we are being told that we do not have to worry about seeing evidence that the equalities duties within the Act have been complied with, because government will have complied with them. Which poses the question why can't this evidence of compliance be seen?
In addition, it would be expected that the EHRC and other bodies would regard this as a backward step in the fight for equality and transparency, and campaign against the changes. Unfortunately, Mr Cameron also announced at the same CBI conference that the length of consultation periods for proposed legislative changes would be reduced and so there may be limited opportunity for any such response to a consultation.