It is now two years since the Stephen Lawrence inquiry reported
its disturbing findings. Though the police were its immediate
concern, the inquiry stressed that institutional racism was
widespread and that there was no room for complacency in the public
sector generally. In particular, it said that it was “incumbent
upon every institution to examine their policies and the outcome of
their policies and practices to guard against disadvantaging any
section of our communities”.
Given their potential to respond to the needs and wishes of
communities, one would have expected real progress in local
authorities. Yet a report just published by the Local Government
Association shows that little has been achieved. Two years have
passed but nearly two-thirds of councils are still only planning to
review their policies on race. A mere 18 per cent have actually
done so, while fewer than half have an action plan to ensure the
provision of appropriate services to black and ethnic minority
The new findings are in line with the Commission for Racial
Equality’s report published last month, Equality in
Practice. It also found that councils had not done enough on
race, even though the CRE published national guidelines for local
government as long ago as 1995. Next month, rules will be
introduced under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 that will
impose a positive duty on local authorities to promote racial
equality and so make this slackness of response untenable.
The government’s social exclusion and regeneration agenda has
given councils an opportunity to take a lead in championing the
interests of their communities. In failing to heed the voices of
black and ethnic minorities, councils are letting themselves down
as well as their constituents.
It is doubtless the case that many councils are listening more
closely to the views of staff and residents than ever before, but
this will have to go a good deal further if it is not to be seen as
paying lip service where more substantial action was required.