Unit set up to take action on council’s race problem

The London Borough of Hackney has set up an independent unit to deal with
staff complaints about racism in a bid to tackle what it has admitted is an
endemic problem in the council.

The unit opened on 3 April to give staff who do not trust internal reporting
procedures an alternative route for complaints. It will also carry out
investigations.

The move is part of a package agreed with the Commission for Racial Equality
after the depth of the problem was exposed in a damning independent report
published in November 1997.

Commissioned by the council and carried out by barrister Lincoln Crawford,
it found that despite a much-publicised equal opportunities policy, staff had
suffered "the worst manifestations of race discrimination" from some
senior managers.

Sarah Ebanja, interim managing director at Hackney, said setting up the unit
was a huge and important step.

"Lincoln Crawford’s report identified that too many staff do not feel
comfortable with the existing grievance procedures for dealing with racism and
as such do not bother to complain, but suffer in silence," she said.

The first contact staff have with the unit is via a 24-hour free phone
number.

Chris Myant, spokesman for the CRE, which is monitoring Hackney’s progress,
said the aim is to build trust among staff the council is committed to
improving.

"We are pleased with the council’s progress so far, but note that
employees are still expressing a degree of concern that change has not yet been
delivered. However, we wouldn’t expect things to turn around over night,"
he said.

Hackney has also introduced diversity training for managers, a black staff
group and regular staff surveys to monitor progress.

The unit is being run by a consortium of providers including Focus EAP,
Ashley Maynard, Iona Management Consultants and Taylor-Stewart Associates.

www.hackney.gov.uk

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