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The three statutory equality duties in Britain - covering Race, Disability and Gender - all demand consultation or involvement with expert community stakeholders if problem identification and action planning is ever to be more than a token affair. The problem lies with how to organise that kind of engagement effectively.

Consider North West England. The region has over 30,000 voluntary sector organisations. Yet the number with sufficient capacity and skills to take part in strategic consultation work hardly exceed single figures. With well over 120 separate public authorities all needing to organise the same kind of consultation, there's the potential for meltdown unless a practical approach is adopted.

Sefton is a diverse coastal borough which stretches from Liverpool in the south and almost up to Blackpool. Along its coast lies Southport, a distinguished old-style holiday resort which is reinventing itself for a new generation. I was invited there recently to give a speech as part of the borough's annual diversity week. And whilst I was there I had the chance to speak with the people behind the borough's 'joined-up' partnership approach to collective consultation and strategy-making...

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