news analysis of race relations at Croydon Council

Council has dropped its appeal against a tribunal’s race discrimination
finding, but faces an uphill struggle to improve its race relations. Jonathan
Pearce reports.

a disgrace and it’s untruthful and we have the documents to prove it."

says Courtney Hay, spokesman for the Northern Complainant Aid Fund, a voluntary
organisation specialising in race discrimination, which represented Croydon
Council worker Christine Cameron in her employment tribunal claim (News, page
8, 14 March and page 3, 18 January 2001).

is referring to the "spin" Croydon has put on its decision to
withdraw its appeal against the tribunal decision last year that it had
racially discriminated against Cameron, an initial contact officer in the
social services department, on two counts: failing to support her after an
incident of serious racial abuse; and suspending her with a view to
disciplinary proceedings.

the tribunal debarred the council from defending the case because its solicitor
deliberately delayed proceedings, misled Cameron’s representative and acted
"in an unprofessional manner", the council said it would
"vigorously appeal the outcome", delaying payment of the £11,100
tribunal award.

tribunal also recommended that the council produce a written protocol setting
out the responsibilities of front-line staff in dealing with racially or
personally abusive service users.

months later, the council is only now implementing the recommendation and has
withdrawn its appeal. Croydon claims it would have won the case if it had been
"given the opportunity to present fully its case", refuses to
acknowledge any responsibility for the tribunal’s findings and says it has
reached an out-of-court settlement with Cameron (which it has not).

council also faces a further six new race-related tribunal hearings in the next
two months.

chief executive David Wechsler defends the withdrawal "purely on grounds
of cost", but Hay says the council is "still in denial".

as long as they are, it means the problem is not going to be tackled," he
adds. "They’re not learning the lessons. The public relations in a way
sums up what is wrong."

the problem has to be tackled – not least because of the recent amendments to
the Race Relations Act 1976. Since last April councils have been under a
general duty to eliminate unlawful discrimination, and to promote equality of
opportunity and good race relations. And by the end of May, they must publish a
race equality scheme showing how they will do this, along with their
arrangements for racially monitoring their workforces in areas including
recruitment, training, job promotion and workforce profiles.

addition, the "equality standard for local government" – launched
last October by local government organisations and equality watchdogs – was
approved last month as a Best Value corporate health performance indicator.
This means that the standard – which focuses on race, gender and disability
issues and how they are integrated into councils’ performance in areas such as
service delivery and employment and training – will be put at the heart of the
work of all councils.

it looks as if Croydon faces an uphill struggle to improve its race relations,
so much so that NCAF chairperson Asher John-Baptiste is writing to the
Commission for Racial Equality urging a formal investigation into the council’s
treatment of black workers.

Croydon cabinet member for social services Paula Shaw is not worried about the
CRE threat. "We’ve got nothing to hide," she says, claiming that the
issues are being addressed. For example, an equality officer has been appointed
in the department and an external consultant is providing training to combat
racial harassment.

recognised that a number of things aren’t right," she adds, pointing to a
"them and us" feeling among social services staff, issues around
training and a sense that black workers feel they do not "stand a
chance" of promotion.

Walker, cabinet member for equalities and community partnerships, adds there
are no "top jobs" in the council for black and minority ethnic
workers, but still believes Croydon is "getting there", despite
"blips along the way".

Shaw and Walker’s confidence is well founded, then Croydon may be able to resolve
its problems. If not, the ramifications for workers’ ability to provide
productive services, are serious. And, as Hay says, Croydon could then become
"a byword for race discrimination claims".

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