The new Equalities Strategy being approved bythe Cabinet on 18 February sets out 4 clear outcomes, each with a set of 3 objectives that inform the actions that will be delivered over the course of the next four years. These outcomes and related objectives are as follows.
Outcome 1: The Council addresses social inequities as a community leader and an employer
1. The Council’s workforce reflects our diverse communities at all levels
2. The Council acts as a role model and champions a fair society
3. We ensure equality training is central to the way work, is regularly undertaken, and is reviewed to meet changing needs
Outcome 2: We work with our residents to better understand our communities
1. Continue to increase our network across seldom heard groups
2. Information about the council’s work towards tackling inequality is easy to access and understand
3. Data about local communities is more effectively collected, analysed and used to inform decisions and improve services.
Outcome 3: Use partnerships to improve access and meet individual needs as they arise
1. Enable better education outcomes by offering support to groups who need it most
2. Support the creation of jobs that enhance quality of life
3. Services are proactive in targeting groups that have accessibility issues as a result of disability, age, mental health, language, digital and/or physical barriers
Outcome 4: People in Croydon are supported to be in good health
1. Work with partners to tackle social isolation and bring people together
2. With our partners use our knowledge of specific health challenges to support improvements
3. We work with our partners to open the door to health services, and support them to make sure residents know where and how to access services
The Council has had plenty of proposed outcomes and objectives in the past across a wide range of policy areas, which it has not achieved because it has believed its own ‘Ambitious’ rhetoric, held flawed so called consultations and adopted tokenistic strategies, while pursuing economic, housing, planning and regeneration policies which have undermined their achievement, and aggravated inequalities and tensions across the Borough.
It is all very well setting out objectives that it is hoped will deliver the outcomes, but there is no sense of understanding what the priority ones should be.
Para 4.6.1 about the Council being Timewise accredited driving transformational change through flexible working practices seems to be in contradiction to the findings of the financial crisis reviews and the staff consultation, and the need for a major transformational change in the way the Council works.
In Para. 4.7.1 it is proposed to ‘establish a board to coordinate the equality arrangements for embedding equality and managing the implementation of the strategy.’ No indication is given as to its membership. It will need to have members representing the Council trade unions, and people who are not Council staff or Councillors in order to ensure constructive critical analyse based on experience in other sectors.
The Financial Context
Para 5.1 states: ‘Given the Council’s current financial context, and the challenges that the national and local economy is facing, it is more important than ever to ensure we are delivering improved outcomes for those facing inequity and disadvantage and, that we do so in the most efficient way possible; pooling resources and expertise with partners where we can, for wider impact.’
This at least recognises that there will be severe challenges, but it raises serious questions about who the partners referred to are. Those in other public services have financial problems of their own to deal with. The small section of the community and voluntary sector which is involved in partnerships with the Council will also be under strain. Those not currently involved in partnership will struggle to survive and not have the time or the energy to be involved in partnership with the Council. This is recognised in paras 5.2 and 5.3
The consultation on the development of the new strategy involved residents and community and voluntary groups witharound 334 participants over a three month period. (Paras 8.2 & 8.3)
There is no list of participants which will enable judgement to be made as to whether the officers were able to reach into all parts of the community, given the problems with communication during COVID, especially the need to rely on social media, which large numbers of residents are not engaged with, and which those who are the victims of inequalities often cannot afford.
External groups engaged included: BME Forum, Asian Resource Centre Croydon, Croydon Voluntary Action, Faiths Together, Croydon Drop and Legacy Zone. The figure of 203 people consulted representing 65 organisations is stated. 65 represents a small percentage of the hundreds of community and voluntary organisations in the Borough.
- How many of those 65 are members of more than one of the larger groups like the BME Forum and CVA?
- How many of those other hundreds do not have the time and energy to take part in the workshops that were held or did not know about them.
COVID and BAME
The report rightly draws attention of COVID’s adverse effects on people characterised as BAME. The Grassroots Black Left has published an important analysis of this with an agenda for action which the Council should consider.
The low take up of vaccination among BAME residents is a cause of major concern. The results in terms of deaths and long-term COVID syndrome are likely to aggravate existing inequalities.
The Fallacy of Community Leadership
The Council has long fallen into the trap of believing that there are community leaders. Such people do not exist. It is an easy way of restricting consultation to a few individuals. So called community leaders are usually officers of organisations. They may represent the views of their members, if they consult them, but they cannot be said to represent a wider community.
Flawed Understanding Of ‘Community’
The concept of ‘community’ is also flawed, if not actually abused. Croydon’s residents are involved in a numerous number of broad ‘communities’ based on politics, faith, sexuality, housing tenure, neighbourhood, district, specialist interest groups, etc. Each community is full of different perspectives and disagreements. Croydon’s ‘community’ comprises racists and anti-racists, Muslims and Islamaphobics, law abiding citizens and criminals, the socially conscience and the anti-social living in the same neighbourhoods. Consultations on equalities are likely not to be engaged with by those who accept inequalities, are not concerned about other people’s disadvantage, and are racist and Islamaphobic. Not knowing what they think means that any equalities strategy adopted by the Council is fundamentally flawed because it does not grapple with the problems of how to change the way people think.
Croydon’s ‘communities’ remain silos, with few robust interlinks, despite the many activists in trying to network across the silos.
Most residents are concentrating on dealing with the problems of their own lives, including their family and friendship networks. They do not have the time and energy and many the resources to engage actively in ‘communities’. Many spring into action when the oppose something like a planning application or the threat to a library.
There are three uncertainties as the pandemic recedes.
- Will previous activists become involved again?
- Will the many volunteers continue to volunteer?
- Will the volunteers move into collective ‘community action?
What Should The Key Priorities Be?
- Drastic Transformation
The strategy talks about the Council as role model and champion of a fair society.
Drastic transformation is needed if the Council is to be seen as a role model. This has been identified in the reviews of the financial crisis. The new Leadership has accepted, but the institutional culture of top-down, ‘we know best’, not listening and engaging, and not responding to residents raising issues is continuing.
It is a delusion that the Council can be seen as a role model, as for many people it is just another institutional enemy, especially if they are Council tenants with management and maintenance problems, those subject to social services and educational welfare intervention, or residents angered by the granting of planning applications, or who feel they are milk cows on parking charges or consider their neighbourhood is neglected.
While this relationship between many residents and local government across the country is in-built it is only with massive transformation in the way it works, can Croydon Council gain more support. It may not have enough time to change if the referendum for a directly elected Mayor triggers an election in May next year, resulting in the introduction of one person rule over which residents will have even less influence than they have had to-date.
- Data about local communities
This has to be a key priority without which policies and service delivery are built on unstable foundations.
There is talk about the partners, but no analysis about the flawed nature of current partnerships. These need to be re-examined to ensure that:
- every representative understands the advantages but also the tensions and contradictions
- they do not exclude partners which will offer robust and critical analysis
- action decisions can be taken, or that proposed actions are taken back to senior managements with a time limit on responses.
- Otherwise indecisiveness and inertia will rule the partnerships and undermine their potential.
The report details examples of action suggestions emerging from the various workshops that were held. The outcomes and objectives do not mirror many of these. Why not?
- Greater partnership with local business to improve employment – for young people and those with protected characteristics
· Creating employment, training and education opportunities for groups hit the hardest, prevention strategies to make them less vulnerable Housing
· Preventative strategy – tackle and address issues that lead to individuals becoming homeless such as mental health
· Providing quality housing to individuals at their time of need.
· Ensure that young people are taught life skills such as: money management, mental health, budgeting, how taxes work, healthy cooking, conflict resolution.
· Ensuring traditionally middle class jobs appeal to more young people and to support them into it via work placements, internships, apprenticeships
Helping to make sure young people feel safe in their neighbourhoods
· Holistic approach to tackling domestic violence Social isolation
· Digital inclusion for older people and those with disabilities
· Variety of channels for older people to engage and get involved in wider community Stronger communities
· Public spaces available in areas in the Borough that are highly congested – creative solutions, working with artists, schools and wider community
· Free or discounted community space to enable community groups to come together
· Mental health – examine issues that impact on mental health e.g. environment – get community involved in improving green spaces
· To increase support for those less physically able to access certain areas of the community Council as a service provider
· Ensure protected characteristics are represented during decision making.
· To increase awareness amongst staff regarding dealings and communications with residents tailored to their needs. – Improving accessibility to services and not limited to online services
· Challenging institutional racism in wider society and raising positive profile of younger people especially BAME
· Over-policing of young people – Helping to facilitate better relationships between the police and young people Council as an employer
· Career progression – equality of opportunities particularly for BAME and staff with disabilities across all levels
· Ensure there is a more diverse range of managers with decision making responsibility
So the outcomes and objectives seem to show that the consultation had not major effect on officer thinking – tokenism again.
Should The Adoption Of The New Strategy Be Deferred?
I have written to the Cabinet requesting them to consider deferring adoption of the new strategy because it:
- minimises the highly critical nature of the LGA’s recommendations which reinforce other reviews findings re-governance and monitoring, and in relation contains a critique which suggests ‘institutional racism’;
- contains fallacies regarding the Council as ‘role model’ and ’champion of a fair society’, and ‘community leadership’;
- totally misunderstands the nature of ‘community’;
- avoids analysing the flawed nature of current partnerships;
- is based on a totally inadequate consultation that failed to reach into the hundreds of community and voluntary organisations, and favoured those easiest to reach, especially those in the CVA and BME Forum;
- does not include in the Equalities Analysis Form (Appendix 5) the many suggestions made in the various workshops;
- does not discuss the role of the Council’s workforce trade unions;
- fails to suggest key priorities for implementing the Outcomes and Objectives.