WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT LAMBETH

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Lambeth has:

One of the largest populations of racially oppressed communities in the country

One of the most deprived communities in the country

One of the most right wing Labour controlled boroughs in the country

A housing department run as a private property company

Aggressive gentrification of the area

Two official reports over 13 years identifying Lambeth Authority as institutionally racist

An increase in numbers of Black, African, Asian and ethnic minority councillors and managers but which has made little difference – why?

Because they are recruited into the right wing culture. Because this is an issue of race and class.

THE FOLLOWING MOTION, IN SUPPORT OF LAMBETH COUNCIL BLACK WORKERS, WAS PASSED BY A NUMBER OF UNION BRANCHES AND BY DULWICH AND WEST NORWOOD LABOUR PARTY CONSTITUENCY

Fighting Institutional Racism in Lambeth Council

” This Branch notes that Lambeth Unison Black Workers Group is once again raising the failure of Lambeth Council to seriously address the institutional racism in the council outlined as long ago as 2003 in the LCAS Mullard Enquiry and in the recent 2020 Vernon Report (see background document below).

This Branch declares its solidarity with the Lambeth Unison Black Workers Group and will do everything in its power to help the group in its fight for justice and equality at work. We call on our CLP to give its full support and solidarity to the Unison Black Workers Group and the demands adopted at their 2020 AGM, which are: 

1. The reinstatement of the Race Equality Unit and independent referral for staff facing discrimination 

2. Reinstatement of the independent functions of the HR Department

3. Reinstatement of the Appeals Procedure for disciplinaries and grievances

4. For members of trade union and self-organised groups whose function is to support staff with respect to the nine protected characteristics to be allocated two hours per month paid time off for this purpose 

5. The establishment of a sub-committee of the council, to be composed representatives from the unions and senior management, with the purpos of overseeing the implementation of the recommendations of the LCAS, Unison and Vernon reports, and to report quarterly to the Council Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

6. That all the above reports and their recommendations are published on the Council website. 

In addition, this Branch calls on our CLP to:

1.  Expect Lambeth councillors to endorse the Unison Black Workers Group demands 

2.  Expect Lambeth Councillors to use the full powers of their office to ensure the Council implements the Black Workers’ demands together with all the recommendations of the LCAS Mullard, Unison and Vernon reports 

3. Expect our MPs, Helen Hayes, Bell Ribeiro-Addy, and Florence Eshalomi, to use their offices to give the Unison Black Workers Group their full support and to exert pressure on the Council to implement their demands together with all the recommendations of the three reports mentioned

4. Make clear that institutional racism in Lambeth, a Labour controlled authority, is utterly unacceptable and that this CLP will campaign relentlessly and publicly to force the administration to overhaul and rectify its conduct, so as to become an anti-racist employer 

5.  In particular pursue the Vernon recommendation of restorative justice for Lambeth’s Black, African, Asian and Ethnically oppressed staff 

6.  Require a progress report from Lambeth Councillors at the January 2021 General Committee/General Meeting. 

7.  Seek to coordinate with Black, African, Asian and Ethnically oppressed  staff in other local authorities to build a network of support.” 

LONG READ – THE BACKGROUND

In January 2020 at the Lambeth Unison Black Workers Group AGM adopted the set of demands listed above. Ten months later the Black Workers Group now observe that, “Since the Vernon investigation and report a large number of Black senior managers have been appointed in senior leadership roles in the Council. This is encouraging, however we know that merely replacing White faces with Black faces does not constitute fundamental change. The fight and plight of Black and disadvantaged staff members needs to change at a faster rate from the bottom up and not top down. We do not believe changing managers from the top down will affect change, hence our demands remain the same.”

Despite the above changes and many fine words the Black Workers Group reports that there has been little progress over the last ten months, and will now be seeking:

a. An update of members’ day-to-day experiences to take back to negotiations with management 

b. To establish a monitoring group to cover all Directorates and to oversee implementation of the recommendations of the three reports

c. To expect paid time off for union members to undertake these tasks After seventeen years Lambeth’s racially abused and discriminate against workers are not prepared to wait any longer, and demand that the recommendations of the 2003 and 2020 reports are implemented in full   and without delay.

Combating over a decade and a half of racism in Lambeth Council, from the 2003 Mullard Enquiry to the 2020 Vernon Report.

In 2003 the LCAS Mullard Enquiry (1) over a six months period identified institutional racism in Lambeth Council. One respondent to the enquiry’s survey epitomised the situation: ‘Managers told her they had white privilege and white colleagues made it clear to black staff they did not belong in certain areas.’

The report made eight principle recommendations Lambeth should implement: to establish and equalities board and an external advisory forum; to de-institutionalise racial inequality; to establish positive action for BAME staff development; to deconstruct itself as an organisation which protected its power; to establish equality and diversity training; to establish such procedures across all levels – politicians, senior managers and staff; to close Departments and dismiss staff where necessary (2) 

A Unison trade union survey (3) in 2017 found that 50% of black staff witnessed management racism. More than two thirds (69.3%) agreed that “the lack of transparency in recruitment has led to BME staff being discouraged and not applying for jobs as they feel it is pointless”. A large majority (69.9%) agreed that “managers have a propensity to look at white people as more capable and having potential, rather than others.” 

Following an open letter published by The Guardian Oct 2018, Andrew Travers, Chief Executive of Lambeth Council responded to media reports by sending an email to all staff saying that; “I do not accept the claim of institutional racism at Lambeth council.” Weeks later there was an apology. “It is now clear to me that my letter did not recognise the reality of the organisation and the experiences and feelings expressed by BAME staff in the meeting; I was wrong about this and I apologise for that. I accept that there is racism within the Council.” 

In 2019 the Council was again investigated for racism and the Vernon Report (4) was published at the start of 2020. It was found that despite the council having “a well written Equal Opportunities Policy (EOP) …its consistent historical failure to implement it demonstrated that racism is now embedded.” 

The principle findings of the Report were to note the long history of racial discrimination; that 80% of interviewees experienced racism; that having an EOP policy which it flouted demonstrated embedded racism; an absence of fairness and transparency; that there was a white culture and network of nepotism; that this left BAME staff stressed, with raised illness levels; low self-esteem; subject to bullying and harassment.

The primary recommendations of the Report were that there should be mentoring both by senior staff and of by their junior members; zero tolerance of bullying and harassment; regular monitoring and reviews of Directorates’ EOP performance with league tables; restorative justice for staff victims; the CE and Directors to be assessed by EOP performance indicators; transformation of the governance structure, to include the trade unions.

References

(1) Mullard [ here ] and[ here ]

(2) LCAS, Professor Mullard, report of the Inquiry Panel and Council response (All Wards/All Areas). The following numbered paragraphs from the report were the primary recommendations that Lambeth should implement:

2.2 Establish an Equalities Board chaired by the Chief Executive

2.7 Establish positive action for the development of Black staff 

2.8 An External Advisory Forum to advise and if necessary challenge the Equalities Board

3.1 Establish these procedures as a whole council policy, from politicians, senior management to staff, and to make a public pledge to implement the changes. 

3.3 De-institutionalise inequality, especially with respect to race

3.3 Deconstruct itself as an organisation that seeks to build and protect its power, sovereignty and status at the expense of users, clients and the public

3.4 Close Departments and dismiss management where necessary to achieve essential changes

(3) Unison: Racism in Lambeth Council [ here ]

(4) The following numbered paragraphs from the Vernon report were its findings:

4.0 Noted the long history of investigations, grievances and complaints about racism and discrimination experienced by staff and recommended that there be “restorative justice in recognition of the past toxic racism”.

8.1 Found 80% of respondents reported experiencing institutional racism

8.1 The report’s findings were likened to the McPherson Enquiry

8.6 The Council was found to have a well written Equal Opportunities policy. Thus its consistent historical failure to implement it demonstrated that racism is now embedded. 

9.1 There is an absence of equal opportunity, fairness and transparency.

9.2 The most senior staff are all white, with a culture of nepotism reinforcing white privilege, operating through a network of clubs cliques and associations which exclude non-white members and which act as a channel for appointments and promotion. There existed a differential, positive treatment of white staff, and disproportionate use of the disciplinarily processes against BAME staff.

9.3 Job opportunities are often only advertised to certain staff. The Human Relations Department fail to support BAME staff whilst providing support for management.

10.1 The impact on African and African-Caribbean staff of historical and continued racism: Feeling undervalued, High levels of stress and anxiety, Low self-esteem

High levels of physical illness

Experiences of bullying and harassment

Marginalisation of staff who do provide support for those victimised

The following numbered paragraphs from the Vernon report were the primary recommendation that Lambeth should implement:

13.1. 5. Coaching and mentoring development (encouraging senior staff to volunteer their time to support staff and take part in reverse mentoring). 

13.2.  

1. Enforce zero tolerance of bullying and harassment of all staff.  

4. Independent process for staff to share experiences of racism and discrimination.  

13.3  

1. All recruitment panels to have at least one member of BAME staff  

2. All posts to be advertised for all staff with clear time scales and support for making applications. 

3. Regular reviews and monitoring of each Directorate’s staffing level to ensure it reflects the demographic and diversity of local population  

4. A league table should be produced to review how managers are supporting BAME staff in each Directorate. 

5. More power for HR to ensure all managers comply with procedures and processes and that HR is involved in all recruitments processes. 

13.4  

1. Restorative justice approach in recognition of past grievances and toxic nature of racism as part of reconciliation and moving forward. A statement from the Chief  Executive and/or Leader of the Council to demonstrate recognition and change.  

3. Development of mental wellbeing support service for all staff which is culturally and gender relevant.  

13.6  

1. Chief Executive, Strategic Director, Assistant Director, Head of Service should have specifics performance related objectives in tackling institutional racism  

2. The Leader of the Council and Key Cabinets members should review these on an annual basis as part of the scrutiny and performance managements systems. Copies of these of the review should be shared with all staff and Trade Unions. 

3. The Council should develop a working definition of institutional racism which is linked to all plans and strategies which is part of the performance review of each   Directorate.  

4. Review current management and governance structures to ensure a transformation change 

5. The plan should be co-produced with a range of staff (different band levels) across each Directorate in partnership with senior management team, Trade Unions and external representatives from local stakeholders that reflect the diversity of Lambeth. 

6. Chief Executive and Leader of the Council will organise quarterly updates and briefing sessions for all staff as part of the review and accountability process.