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.