Councils under pressure to eliminate ingrained racism

Local authorities are
struggling to comply with new legislation that will transform the way equality
issues are treated from next month. The Race Relations (Amendment) Act will
mean public authorities have to eliminate institutional racism and promote equality
of opportunity and good race relations.

The chairman of the Commission
for Racial Equality, Gurbux Singh, warned HR professionals at a briefing last
week that less than 50 per cent of local authorities have implemented an action
plan since the Stephen Lawrence enquiry to take racism policies forward.

He said, "Of course there
are al-ready examples of excellence and a great deal of good work is being
done. But the excellence of the few only highlights the weaknesses that
characterise the sector as a whole. All of us have the right to expect the very
best from everyone in public services."

Francesca Okosi, director of HR
at the London Borough of Brent, welcomed the legislation but admitted local
authorities had work to do. She said, "We have put policies in place and
have been enthusiastic but due to stretched resources and other policies the
issue has been put on the back burner. Now we must measure outcomes and look
closely at our policies and the status quo and if they are not working, correct
them."

Terry Gorman, president of
Socpo and assistant chief executive of personnel and corporate services at
Nottinghamshire County Council, said, "HR needs to look at its recruitment
policies and tailor them so they seem attractive to ethnic minority
communities.

"Our image needs to
improve."

Local authorities could be
fined and ordered to pay compensation by courts if they breach the act ñ which
only applies to the public sector.

The CRE can investigate
breaches and issue recommendations. It will take legal action at the last
resort.

What the Act means to the
public sector

– Local and
central government, the police and NHS will be subject to the Act

– They will
have to monitor the ethnicity of their workforce, and in applications for jobs,
promotion and training.

– They will
have to consider equality issues when dealing with grievances, disciplinary
action, performance appraisals, dismissals and other reasons for leaving.

– The CRE
will produce codes of practice in April to help compliance

By
Ben Willmott 

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