Time for change

Together with a number of Labour councillors in Birmingham, I wrote to the Prime Minister in June, urging him to rethink plans for a new government commission on racial inequalities in response to issues highlighted by the Black Lives Matter protests and, instead, to act now on the detailed findings of previous reviews. 

The letter came about because, as a group of councillors representing a city with a large black population, we were angered by the Government’s decision to once more ‘kick the can down the road’ rather than act to address widely acknowledged issues. 

Any commitment to address long-standing and deeply entrenched inequalities is to be welcomed, but the communities we represent have heard it all before, and they’re sick and tired of talk without action. 

The Lammy Review, the Angiolini Review, the Windrush Lessons Learned Review and Baroness McGregor-Smith’s Review produced more than 200 recommendations, but if those reports just sit around gathering dust, then what is the point of yet another review?  

The global protests after the horrific death of George Floyd prompted many welcome displays of solidarity from individuals and organisations. These gestures matter; symbolism matters. 

But lighting buildings purple and removing inappropriate statues will only take us so far. True solidarity can only really be demonstrated by action to tackle systemic inequalities that have been ignored for far too long. 

Some action will come at a national level, but we must not be passive locally. As the UK’s largest local authority, we must get our own house in order and lead by example. 

I’m one of two black women on Birmingham City Council’s cabinet, but our senior management team is not as reflective of the city and that needs to be addressed. 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. 

We are committed to challenging and removing barriers to advancement within the council, and a cabinet report next month will outline the council’s wider plans to tackle persistent inequalities. 

We will ensure our workforce reflects the communities we serve by working with our staff, managers, trades unions and others to become a beacon for equal opportunities. We will introduce a ‘Rooney rule’ for job shortlists to address the current, visible imbalance in gender and black, Asian and minority ethnic representation across the authority, and ensure all council interview panels are similarly representative. 

We have also agreed that cabinet members will no longer appear on all-white or all-male panels, and we will encourage partners to take a similar stance. 

“We are committed to challenging and removing barriers to advancement within the council”

An important lesson for national and local government is that it should not take a crisis before issues of equality are addressed. I take solace in the fact that, while the Government continues to talk a good game, councils such as Birmingham and others are acting

Similarly, we surely didn’t need the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 to highlight long-standing health, housing and economic inequalities.  

In 2020, racism, discrimination and inequality continue to impact on the lives and life chances of far too many people, and that’s simply unacceptable. So, collectively we must do better. 

We’re determined to play our part in Birmingham. The challenge for the Government is to do the same. We don’t need another review – we need change.

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