Tackling inequalities is everyone’s business in Birmingham

By Cllr John Cotton | 07 September 2020

Over recent months events have shown the full extent to which inequalities have impacted Birmingham – and highlighted how much work is needed to redress that imbalance.

As the largest local authority in Europe and home to a diverse population of over one million people, we cannot and will not stand idly by in the face of the inequalities affecting our fellow citizens. It’s also clear the eyes of the local government sector are watching to see how we step up to tackle these issues.

Tomorrow (8 September) I’ll be presenting a report, Everyone’s Business, Everyone’s Battle: Tackling Inequalities in Birmingham, to our Cabinet, which sets out our initial plans and  triggers a conversation with communities across our city about how we build a more equal and inclusive city. We are absolutely clear – real change is delivered when we put people’s experiences and views at the heart of what we do.

Events so far this year have starkly underlined that we still live in an unequal society.

So in order to actively address those issues, we are going to be bold and open to having uncomfortable conversations to understand the underlying causes of persistent inequality.

We live in one of Britain’s most diverse cities and yet opportunities for too many of our citizens continue to be limited as a result of their race, class, gender, economic circumstances or a combination of these factors.

This injustice and inequality have never been acceptable to us. Yet it’s clear that, despite our best intentions, progress is not happening quickly enough.

I know this won’t be easy, but that must not stop us doubling down on our efforts to see change happen. If we want real change to happen, we need everyone to play their part, to make it their business.

The leader of the council, Ian Ward, and all of my Cabinet colleagues are committed to this – as are interim chief executive Chris Naylor and his senior team.

As one of the city’s major employers, we know we must lead by example and take practical, meaningful action that makes a difference. This means we will be:

  • Ensuring our workforce reflects the communities we serve, working with our staff, managers, trade unions and independent equalities and HR experts to become a beacon for equal opportunities.
  • Working to introduce a ‘Rooney rule’ for shortlists to address the current, visible imbalance in gender and Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic representation across the authority and ensuring all council interview panels are similarly representative.
  • Challenging and removing barriers to advancement within the council, in order to address the serious lack of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic representation at senior level.

We will be using this to address wider structural inequalities and our workforce to reflect Birmingham’s community and all of its characteristics.

To further those pledges we are determined to help nurture our future leaders, and we recently announced we have joined forces with Operation Black Vote, to launch a new Civic Leadership programme with a diverse cohort of 15 participants.

We will be expanding our Equalities and Cohesion team, so we have the in-house expertise and leadership to deliver on our mission to tackle inequality right across our city. They will be at the forefront of our drive to tackle poverty and disadvantage in every neighbourhood: from the shocking numbers of children who grow up below the poverty line, to ending the scandal of poverty pay by making Birmingham a Real Living Wage City.

The ongoing pandemic has again brutally exposed the health inequalities affecting Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities. Throughout the crisis, we’ve been pressing Government hard for co-ordinated national action on these issues, which affect communities across the country.

Local government has a vital role to play here too. That’s why Birmingham has joined forces with colleagues in the London Borough of Lewisham to carry out an in-depth review of health inequalities affecting African and Caribbean communities.

This will ensure we properly understand what we need to do to support those who have been among the hardest hit by COVID-19. We will look to set up similar reviews for other Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities.

Our work will not stop there to ensure inequalities are no longer a fact of life in 21st century Birmingham. As today’s report makes clear, tackling inequalities is everyone’s battle and everyone’s business.  I’m determined that our great city seizes this opportunity to make the changes that our citizens and communities need and deserve.

 Cllr John Cotton is the Cabinet Member for Social Inclusion, Community Safety and Equalities at Birmingham City Council.

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Health HR Local democracy Public health Cohesion inequality Poverty Coronavirus



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