The events of the past year have shone a light on racial inequality across the world. The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the disproportionate health impact on Black, Asian and ethnic minority communities while the Black Lives Matter movement prompted global protests, personal soul-searching and difficult conversations. For local leaders in the capital, 2020 has brought to the fore the urgent need to confront and address systemic racial inequality and injustices to make London a fairer place for all its citizens.
This October marks the 33rd year of Black History Month in the UK, a time to celebrate and remember the achievements and contributions of Black people throughout history. It also opens up discussions that tackle racism throughout the UK and educates people about the inequalities Black Britons face. It is essential we work together to tackle the longstanding reality that racial inequalities exist in all areas of public life with huge consequences for many Londoners.
Galvanised by a renewed imperative to act, London boroughs are currently working together to identify programmes that can improve working practices that address racial inequality. We believe collaboration is crucial to making progress across all local authorities in the capital. If we are not open about the complicated and thorny issues we collectively face, if we do not drive best practice across all our networks in all corners of the capital, and if we fail to include a diverse range of perspectives, progress will be too slow. If officers and political leaders do not commit to this agenda and hold themselves accountable, our organisations and wider communities will not see change.
Earlier this month, London Councils, which brings together all Leaders and directly elected mayors of the London boroughs together with the City of London, agreed a Statement setting out a framework for action, committing local government to leading change across different communities, identifying programmes of work, building momentum and sharing best practice to ensure meaningful progress is made. The chief executives fully support this approach and are committed to using the framework, both locally, and in collaborative work led by Kim Smith and the Chief Executives London Committee (CELC), and its dedicated sub-group on tackling race inequality. We are supported in this by an enthusiastic team of officers from London Councils and a range of its member boroughs.
Boroughs are collaborating on three broad programmes of work:
- Demonstrating leadership - adopting this agenda into our own business and work plans for future years to help local initiatives tackle unfair practices. But also striving to place London local government at the heart of tackling racial inequality.
- Building inclusive workplaces - working to better share data around racial inequality and disparities on a pan-London level so we can have solutions shared across the capital. Supporting the development of inclusive employment policies and practice, with training, mentoring programmes and support for career progression across local authorities designed to build more inclusive work environments.
- Challenging and improving practice across services - exploring disproportionality of experiences and outcomes across a range of service and policy areas and sharing emerging best practice across London boroughs in tackling racial inequality.
Within these, several initial projects are already underway. These include developing a standard for London local authorities so they are able to benchmark where they currently stand on addressing racial inequality, providing a framework for measuring and monitoring the journey towards parity. We are also developing guidance on the categorisation and use of the term BAME and why it is challenging for many audiences, helping local government officers and politicians think critically about cultural differences and the words they use to describe race and ethnicity and the impact terminology can have.
These new programmes of work are at an early stage. But by working with and learning from London’s Black, Asian and other ethnic minority communities, London boroughs are committing to improving and achieving the goal of greater equality across local government and eventually all other public services. This challenge is a pan-London issue and by working together, along with partners across the capital, boroughs can ensure that London local government leads the way in establishing a more equal city for our diverse communities.
Taking steps towards a fairer and more equal society has been the work of generations. There is still much to do. Now is the time to acknowledge the diversity of people across the capital and to lead the way in dismantling the systemic racial inequality and injustices far too many Londoners face every day.
Cllr Muhammed Butt is London Councils’ executive member for welfare, empowerment and inclusion and Kim Smith is chief executive of Hammersmith & Fulham LBC