The death of George Floyd in America and the Black Lives Matter protests there and in Brighton have prompted council and health chiefs to look harder at the way they work.
A council committee heard more about their aims as well as first-hand insights and advice from two “invited members” at a virtual meeting yesterday (Wednesday 29 July).
Anusree Biswas Sasidharan and Lola Banjoko urged Brighton and Hove City Council to do more to help people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds to overcome some of the barriers that they currently face.
They pressed the council to involve people from BAME backgrounds more in recruitment – when candidates are selected and at interview.
They shared their advice at a meeting of the council’s Tourism, Equalities, Communities and Culture Committee as it discussed a report headed “Becoming an Anti-Racist Council”.
Dr Biswas Sasidharan said that many “continue to experience racism and diminished opportunities”.
They were “disadvantaged in housing, education, employment, criminal justice and health systems – as covid and George Floyd’s brutal death indicate”.
She said: “While ending racism requires action by all organisations, it also requires powerful white-led organisations like the council, CCGs (clinical commissioning groups), police and community and voluntary organisations to release their grip on power and to trust in black-led organisations and people.
“It is not about the intention of this council, which I believe to be good, but the approach and the impact that it is having.
“Currently, black-led organisations and people do not feel trusted.
“They feel managed, mistrusted and patronised.
“They do not feel empowered in this current system which robs them of agency.
“Black people are not powerless victims, passively awaiting rescue.
“This means empowering black communities to drive accountability, create new economies and better-quality services in the city.”
She said she knew good people within the council who could help bring about change but said that the scale of the task would require a number of people, adding: “If you don’t have them, try to find them.”
Brighton and Hove CCG managing director Lola Banjoko said that the council was working hard to tackle race-related issues.
Council and health chiefs had held listening events, she said, adding: “I spoke about my own personal experience … as painful as it is.
“It’s painful when you hear things but you do need to hear it.”
Honest and frank conversations were crucial, as was “talent management” and greater diversity in the recruitment process – and that the process was fair and transparent.
Public sector leaders across Sussex were looking at how to make progress in these areas.
She said that unless those in charge “purposefully and intentionally try to change things”, trust would be lacking.
She cited the coronavirus track and trace process as an example of the need for trust.
She said that if people did not trust the authorities, they would do things like give the wrong phone number, undermining the basis of “track and trace”.
And she added: “It’s not about going on another course. It’s about the opportunities to develop and making sure the recruitment process is fair and transparent.”
Dr Banjoko said that she had shared the emerging “anti-racist” strategy being developed by the council as an example to other organisations.
And she added: “I know there’s lots to do be done and we’re not going to conquer this overnight.”
Green councillor Alex Phillips criticised the lack of reference to anti-semitism or prejudice against gypsy and Roma people in the report before the committee.
Her party took charge of the council a week ago after becoming the largest party when two Labour councillors resigned after facing allegations of anti-semitism. Another member is suspended while similar claims are investigated.
The committee was told that the council was working on a “civic leadership programme” to increase the number of people from BAME backgrounds who become councillors, NHS board members, trustees of voluntary sector organisations, governors of schools and magistrates.