The Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) has
called on the voluntary sector to “police” public bodies on its
behalf to ensure they are meeting their obligations under the Race
Relations Amendment Act 2000 and to report them when they fail.
Senior legal officer at the CRE Chitra Karve
told delegates at last week’s National Association for Voluntary
Sector conference that voluntary sector groups were ideally placed
to demand evidence that public bodies were working to eliminate
unlawful discrimination and promote equality of opportunity and
good race relations in carrying out their functions.
Both areas fall under the new general duty
section of the amended act and will be audited and inspected in the
same way as other statutory duties. The CRE then has the power to
take action – ultimately through the courts – when authorities do
not take necessary measures.
But Karve said that, with a staff of 150, the
CRE did not have the resources to carry out regular monitoring. So
the commission would depend on the voluntary sector to inform it
when public bodies were not meeting their obligations.
“You’re going to be our eyes and ears,” she
said. “Ethnic minorities have been second-rate citizens in terms of
services in the past, and it was up to individuals to approach the
commission. Now you can go straight to your local authority and ask
it what services it is going to provide, and it will have to show
that it is providing services or will do so.”
But, while delegates welcomed the message,
they were doubtful that they would be able to meet the challenge as
many of them had very little knowledge of the act.
Voluntary organisations also raised concerns
about the consequences of blowing the whistle on such a potentially
important funding source.
Hazel Baird, director of the Black Training
and Enterprise Group, said: “This will put voluntary sector
organisations in a very vulnerable position, and Iwould hope [the
CRE] would support them and let them know how to go about it.”
Karve admitted that, with many voluntary
organisations being funded by their local authority, they would
have to be careful about complaining.
“There is a sense in which you’re biting the
hand that feeds you,” she said. “But we absolutely rely on
whistleblowers in this area. There will always be tensions
regarding complaints when one organisation is funded by
Karve said that a series of regional
conferences, including one jointly organised with a black and
minority ethnic organisation and one for the voluntary sector as a
whole, were planned at which members of the CRE would go through
the act in detail.