Bureaucratic inertia is undermining local authorities’
attempts to tackle racist practices, writes trainer Helen

Local authorities’ failure to meet deadlines set by the Race
Relations Amendment Act 2000 comes as no surprise.

Racism is a massive problem within local government because it
is institutionalised at every level. Councils are essentially
oppressive institutions that neither welcome change nor celebrate
difference. They encourage racism by replicating the same
practices. They tend to compete with neighbouring councils, rather
than work with them to tackle important issues. Within councils
there is a culture of resistance to change and a refusal to learn.
This makes them fail to address inequalities.

Councils continue to have poor recruitment policies and are
still inclined to select from their existing workforce when
vacancies arise rather than from the outside. By doing this they
miss opportunities to attract people who could bring in fresh ideas
and their workforces lack a representative number of black staff.
Consequently their services often fail to offer black people
adequate choices.

The failure to include “outsiders” works against equality and
reinforces bad practice. In turn, lack of equality and pressure to
conform to oppressive practices put off many who are committed to
fighting racism from working for local authorities.

Councils create bureaucracies behind which to hide their
inadequacies and through which to control and coerce. The failure
to comply with the law is a reflection of a wider problem within
local government. This problem is the inertia that is fed by the
bureaucracy that blocks initiatives aimed at bringing about

Until both local and central government start recognising that
it is racism that is the problem and not black people, little
progress will ever be made. Local government and central government
need to recognise that racism is not something that occurs just on
a personal level but that it is also created at an institutional
level. But how much longer will we need to keep telling them this?
The law has recognised institutionalised racism since the Race
Relations Act 1976 came into force. Fighting racism is not about
making tokenistic gestures, it is about understanding its roots and
tackling its causes as well as its symptoms.

When the offending councils eventually produce their written
anti-racist policies they will have to do a great deal to prove
that their commitments are real and worth more than the paper they
are written on.

Helen Best is a freelance trainer

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