Published: 13 April, 2012
by ANDREW JOHNSON
A DISTURBING picture of discrimination has emerged at the Town Hall with the publication of the first findings of an Islington Council review.
A council committee will hear on Tuesday how black and ethnic minority staff (BME) believe that they are regularly passed over for promotion and are unfairly marked down in staff appraisals.
Islington’s Labour leadership – and chief executive Lesley Seary – say they are determined to root out the problem, which is why they commissioned the review into equalities.
Over the past year it has been hearing representations from staff. The full findings will be published at the end of May.
Councillor Claudia Webbe, an equalities campaigner who set up the review, said that the Town Hall was showing leadership in openly getting to grips with the problem.
Tuesday’s committee will see a letter from Ms Seary to the Town Hall’s Black and Ethnic Minority Forum – which has more than 250 members.
It followed a meeting she held with the Forum late last year. Her letter, dated November 2011, said: “I got the impression from the meeting that people felt that they had experienced discrimination and disadvantage as a result of their ethnic origin when it comes to things like appraisals, promotion and reorganisations... Some of the data is a cause for concern, while other data is quite positive. On the one hand, BME staff were less likely to achieve ‘highly effective’ in the previous appraisal system... and more likely to be involved in grievances and disciplinaries.”
The letter pointed out, however, that more than 75 per cent of BME staff – who make up a third of Town Hall staff – were satisfied with their line manager.
Tuesday’s documents also show that BME staff had complained about inflexible management styles – with black male managers expected to adopt the same style as white female managers.
“Career progression is slowed down or blocked if a specific management style is not adopted,” was one of the complaints. Another was: “Managers who act like chameleons – subtle saboteurs – who marginalise BME staff will outwardly ‘talk the talk’.”
They also highlighted that bullying was a problem, particularly among disabled staff. One union official told the Tribune that he was not surprised by the findings.
“It’s something that’s occurring on a daily basis,” he said. “Some managers are nothing but bullies. They’re being protected because people are forced to keep quiet.”
The report comes amid ongoing concerns about racism in the Met Police. At the weekend it emerged that a constable and civilian employee based in Islington have been accused of using racist language and that another officer was recently convicted of a racist public order offence on a train.
Cllr Webbe argued that dealing with discrimination was a “long and steep” task and the Labour council was being proactive in tackling it – and transparent.
Cllr Webbe added: “The problem is not to do with individuals in the Town Hall. It is to do with process and procedure, and we are going to tackle that. We are showing leadership in grasping the nettle and we hope that our partners – such as the police – will follow our example.
“The issue has been neglected, but part of Labour’s Fairness Commission was to ensure that people are treated equally which is why this review was started.
“Discrimination can’t be unpicked overnight.”