Headlines: January 30th, 2004

Public bodies are missing a valuable opportunity to improve their services through a failure to meet the needs of their diverse communities, according to a new report on race equality from the Audit Commission. It says too many organisations focus on setting up systems that merely comply with the letter of the law.The report, “Journey to Race Equality – Delivering Improved Services For Local Communities”, says that many public organisations are unsure of what they are trying to achieve in terms of race equality. It calls for managers and front-line staff to have the appropriate training and resources and for service providers to prioritise and integrate equality in their organisational culture.

The two key factors to success, the report says, are leadership and local “buy-in” to the goal of race equality. It argues that local agencies are best placed to understand how to serve their communities. There must be sustained support and encouragement from national agencies and regulators required to maintain momentum and where progress is poor this should be challenged through effective regulation and providing opportunities for local organisations to share knowledge and learning.

It sets out a self-assessment tool to help local organisations measure how well they are performing on race equality and to develop an action plan for improvement. It draws on case studies of work carried out in councils, hospital trusts, and schools that have managed change.

To follow up the report, the Audit Commission is to run a series of conferences with the Commission for Race Equality and the Race Equality Unit at the Home Office, which will give delegates the chance to apply the research findings and share learning and advice with their peers.

The Audit Commission’s chairman, James Strachan, said the report showed public services needed to be close to the communities they served. Race equality meant all communities having equal influence in local decision making as well as access to services and jobs.