(It may be advisable to print this document as it is long).
Local authorities should play a key role in reducing racial tension, but do
the policies they pursue really incorporate black and Asian people or merely
repeat past mistakes? Jonathan Pearce reports.
Will councils rise to the challenge?
The recent riots in Burnley, Bradford and Oldham served as a timely reminder
of progress, or a lack of it, in race relations.
Part of the government’s response has been to set up the Community Cohesion
Chaired by former Nottingham Council chief executive Ted Cantle, the
10-member team will consult widely with community leaders, young people,
councils and voluntary and faith groups to identify best practice in rebuilding
areas affected by racial tension.
"This is about how the government relates to communities in the
broadest sense, and about how they develop themselves and build their own
capacity to change," says Cantle.
Home secretary David Blunkett says the solutions to the problems must be
found at a local level, and has given the team until the end of November to
complete its work, including identifying shortcomings in the work of councils
and other organisations in creating cohesive neighbourhoods.
Talk of local solutions and cohesion taps into the government’s agenda of
neighbourhood renewal, building a sense of community, and delivering public
services through devolving power and regionalisation.
The role of local authorities in these issues and in race relations cannot
be under-estimated. The welter of initiatives, action plans and strategies that
impact on race relations are testament to this.
"Local government has a pretty big role in three ways," says
Gerald Lemos, partner in social research agency Lemos & Crane. "As a
provider of public services, as employers and also as local regulators. All
have race equality dimensions."
Lemos was commissioned by the Department for Transport, Local Government and
the Regions to produce a report for the launch of the third year of the Beacon
Council Scheme on the new theme of "promoting racial equality" –
applications from interested councils are currently invited.
"There is nowhere in Britain where the promotion of racial equality has
no relevance in terms of who is employed, who receives services or who is being
educated to play a role in society," writes Lemos.
The new theme highlights five key actions to achieving excellence:
consultation, user-involvement and effective partnership-working; benchmarking;
innovation; sustained momentum; and a focus on outcomes.
The neighbourhood renewal strategy now under way offers an opportunity to
test the delivery of regional regeneration through partnerships involving
Race equality is highly relevant in such initiatives because black and
minority ethnic communities are disproportionately represented in the most
deprived areas of the country.
Under the strategy, councils have a duty to set up local strategic
partnerships to help ethnic minority groups have a greater say and involvement
in projects and services aimed at breaking the cycle of deprivation.
But a recent report by the Black Training and Enterprise Group (BTEG)1
shows how far councils still have to go to champion race equality in regional
regeneration. Its research shows local authorities are failing to relinquish
power to allow local strategic partnerships to make genuine decisions, with the
danger that they may in practice do no more than "rubber stamp"
Despite the array of government initiatives, the black voluntary sector is
critical about the prospect of progress. The sector’s experience shows much of
the funding ends up in the pockets of large private organisations, consultants
and statutory agencies, while councils use Best Value reviews to justify cuts in
core services and funding.
When such communities realise they are being denied high quality, equitable
services, then that will "contribute to feelings of disaffection and
despondency", says Lemos – not just among black people but also poorer
white people. "It is possible for society as a whole to grow more
tolerant, while a minority becomes more intolerant," adds Lemos.
"That creates a kind of cauldron where the far right can thrive."
Another issue is that council practices do not always reflect community
needs. "Increasingly, local authorities are contracting out services and
there’s no certainty the bodies to whom they contract out accept the same
responsibility to promote race equality," says Sukhvinder Stubbs, a board
member of the West Midlands Regional Development Agency.
Regional development agencies and regional assemblies are key bodies in the
development of regeneration. Along with government offices for the regions,
they have a crucial co-ordination role in community participation, economic and
skills development, and social and physical regeneration.
But a BTEG spokesperson says the practical outcomes are the problem, not the
theory: "The problem is not the lack of guidance… the problem comes at the
implementation stage. Regional offices don’t have the training or skills to
ensure race equality is in the mainstream of programmes."
With regionalisation in its early stages, regional bodies, including local
authorities, need to develop a framework to listen and act upon communities’
needs and wishes if more riots are to be avoided.
"The best [councils] do make an impact," says Lemos. When people
feel neglected that is when local government comes in, he argues, particularly
in education and housing.
However, BTEG believes the role of local authorities in the process of
community empowerment is "highly problematic".
They have a lot of "damage repair" to do, says its report, based
on a record of continuing cuts in the funding of black organisations and poor
support for the development of the black voluntary sector. The result is that
the voluntary sector feels it is "fighting for representation".
It is all these issues and more that the Community Cohesion Review Team will
have to address as it investigates issues around the recent riots.
1 George Mathew and Similola Towry-Coker, Championing Racial
Equality in Regeneration – Local Ownership in a Regional Agenda, BTEG, July
Charities object to suggestions that they should compensate for absent
statutory services, writes Lauren Revans.
Government in a jam over preserved rights
Since the Labour Party was returned to power in June, it has wasted no time
outlining plans to deliver on its manifesto pledge to make voluntary and
community organisations "key to Labour’s vision for Britain".
But, with the recent publication of guidance on interim measures for people
with preserved rights, the Labour government may have pushed its new cosy
relationship with the charitable sector too far.
Preserved rights benefit rates are the special rates of income support paid
to those people who were resident in nursing and residential care homes when
community care was introduced in 1993.
Many preserved rights claimants have long-complained of a shortfall between
the fees they are charged and their weekly benefit limits. This can force them
to either put their personal expenses allowance towards the cost of
accommodation, to rely on their family for assistance, to accept a smaller
room, or – in extreme circumstances – to face eviction.
In April 2002, this flawed system will be scrapped and responsibility for
the full costs of residential and care home fees transferred to local
In the meantime, guidance allowing councils to provide financial support to
preserved rights claimants has been introduced for residential home residents,
and for nursing home residents under pension age.
The temporary arrangements, however, do not cover the majority of nursing
home residents over pension age.
Instead, the guidance states that in the event of someone in this group
coming into financial difficulty before next April, councils should try to
negotiate with the home and the NHS, "and/or look for the availability of
other sources of funding such as charities".
This is a far cry from what charities had in mind when they were told in
Labour’s election manifesto they would be "a vital and diverse part of
The Association of Charity Officers, which represents charity trustees
across the UK, has expressed horror and disbelief at what they claim is the
first example of local authorities being told to ask charities to fund basic
Association director Valerie Barrow has written to the Department of Health
complaining about the implications of the guidance for charities, and the
"anomaly" it has created by leaving the most vulnerable group of
preserved rights claimants out in the cold. She has yet to receive a response
from the department.
"It seems a nonsense that the government’s strategy to look after this
group of people is to rely on the discretion of charities," Barrow told Community
"This isn’t the way to spend charity money. We aren’t built into the
statutory framework that way."
Barrow said the move raised an issue about the blurring of the line between
the statutory and charitable sectors.
"What our members would like to think they are doing is enhancing
quality of life rather than paying for basic survival," she said. "There’s
a line there, and this really goes across that boundary."
Older people’s charity Age Concern first questioned the government’s
proposal to leave some of the most vulnerable people who require nursing care
out of the safety net in a letter to health minister John Hutton in September
In his response in a letter in December justifying the "purpose in
making these limited changes", Hutton said any greater intervention
"might encourage home owners to increase their fees to unreasonable
levels" and lead to further evictions.
A comment from a DoH spokesperson this week reinforced this position,
denying the interim guidance had backed charities into a corner, and stressing
that there was "no expectation that charities will necessarily be able to
"Where councils and the NHS cannot provide support, they should give
the resident facing eviction advice and guidance to help them find alternative
accommodation using their preserved rights," the spokesperson said.
"But we do urge that all avenues are explored."