Headlines: September 28th, 2007

Local councils are not always clear as to how they should factor racial equality and good race relations into their strategic plans for physical regeneration. Councils with smaller ethnic minority populations are not convinced that they have to do so. The effect is that the impact of regeneration on different groups is not being measured. This is the conclusion of an investigation by the Council for Racial Equality.

The investigation looked at how public authorities are complying with the duty to promote race equality in relation to their regeneration functions and how the outcomes of regeneration activities are evaluated in terms of racial equality. Most councils had appointed equality champions, but little evidence was found that they are effective, or even visible. In one case only equality specialists seemed to know that the council had an equality champion.

The CRE report quotes instances where officers were frustrated because none of the councillors, including the equality champion, was ready publicly to support the council’s position on racial equality and integration, even though there were racial tensions in the area. This reluctance was seen as undermining the local authority’s work in this area. In one area, a regeneration programme aimed at promoting racial equality and integration had been the subject of strong and sustained criticism, some of which was motivated by prejudice and misconceptions expressed in ethnic terms.

Council officers also reported a worrying lack of response from elected members, including the racial equality champion. They felt that some councillors obstructed progress on racial equality, either by being ineffective or in some cases by actively opposing their work or being openly dismissive, because they did not see racial equality and good race relations as being an important part of the work of local government. It was felt that sometimes councillors resented community representatives, seeing themselves as the true democratic representatives of their constituencies, and that some of them did not understand the needs and aspirations of people from ethnic minorities, with a few being positively hostile to certain groups.

The report calls for local councils to show stronger leadership and to ensure that racial equality and community cohesion are an intrinsic part of their vision to improve areas through regeneration.

On 1 October the CRE will be replaced by the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights.