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Wednesday 1 October 2014

Racist Bullying at Brent Council

Following an Employment Tribunal that found Brent Council had tolerated racist bullying, there has rightly been a lot of disquiet.  The concerns are highly unlikely to be met by any internal review into the issue, as such a review is far to close to the people alleged to be involved to have any credibility.

What saddens me most about this is that Brent has over many years made real efforts to tackle equality issues, and this looks like an organisation losing those hard fought gains through neglect and perhaps something worse.

During the Tory administration of the 1990s, Brent Council abolished its human resources function altogether _ a decision almost unbelievably antediluvian.  The result was that it had no process for dealing with problems between managers and staff, and got involved in a number of scandals.  Many of these had a racial element, and the Council repeatedly found itself on receiving end of adverse employment tribunal verdicts highlighting problems with racism.  This got so bad that there was a specific intervention by the Commission for Racial Equality (forerunner of the CEHR).  Improvements were made under Paul Daisley's leadership of the Council, and the number of tribunal cases started to fall.  This also ran parallel with other improvements to the quality of governance, for instance in planning.

By 2010, Brent had a much healthier reputation.  It was able to undertake two waves of major restructuring without a major increase in adverse tribunal cases.  Given the restructuring involved the removal of about a quarter of the workforce, I think that remarkable.

When Brent was challenged over the Libraries Judicial Review, Equalities were one of the main grounds cited.  I am sure the opposing side thought they would manage to get the Council over something equality related, and they did indeed pick over every imaginable objection.  That the Council came through such a rigorous examination with a judgement entirely in its favour is testament to how seriously equalities in Brent Council were treated.

Since then I get an impression of decline.  A lot of this follows on from the removal of Gareth Daniel as Chief Executive.  There has never been any public explanation of why this was done, but I suspect part of it was because Gareth had objected vigorously to a particular councillor bullying staff.  The councillor bore him a grudge as a result and pursued a vendetta against him.

Once you start allowing this kind of thing without objection, you begin to create a culture where it is acceptable, and people cease even to object to bullying and simply keep their heads down.  That is a tragic situation not just for the victims but also the organisation as a whole.

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