• Tuesday, April 16, 2024

News

Leaked report finds hidden racism in Dudley council

Councillor Patrick Harley, Dudley Council.

By: Rhi Storer

A leaked report into the work culture of Dudley council has exposed hidden racism in the local authority, including “disproportionate” use of disciplinaries by senior managers to BAME colleagues.

The report, titled ‘Dudley council equality review’ was made available to council staff via their intranet in December 2021.

It was leaked to the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) this month.

The 52-page document was first commissioned in 2020 by Birmingham Race Action Partnership, also known as brap. It was completed in June 2021.

The report noted black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) members were twice as likely as white employees to be subject to a formal disciplinary investigation.

The report found a third of disciplinaries raised against BAME employees resulted in them having no case to answer.

BAME staff were also found to be twice as likely to have experienced bullying or discrimination from a manager in the last 24 months, and three times more likely to say they have experienced bullying from a colleague.

One participant said: “I have experienced bullying and intimidation through emails, face-to-face, telephone calls, and made to feel worthless so much that I wanted to leave [the council].”

Another employee said his manager was aggressive to him because of his ethnicity and “overloaded” him with work: “I suffer with depression and honestly Dudley council have put me through so much stress and worry I’ve faced some of the hardest times off my life.”

The report also highlighted anecdotes of “relatively low numbers” of Black senior leaders, with many BAME employees alleging it is “harder” to progress into more senior roles at the council.

It follows a collective grievance issued by the two biggest unions at the council – Unite and Unison – in July 2020, who alleged three BAME staff were suspended by the council within two weeks of each other, pending an investigation into gross misconduct.

The trade unions also alleged a white employee undergoing disciplinary action at the council “would not be treated” the same way and would receive “more favourable and less harsh treatment”.

A senior ex-employee of the council, who spoke to the LDRS on condition of anonymity, accused the council both of “keeping secret” the findings of the report and “driving a coach and horses” through their own grievance and disciplinary procedures.

They said: “There’s just no thought, no appreciation of empathy with the experiences and the lived experiences of Black and Asian employees of the council.

“Many times, I was the only person of colour sat at important board meetings. I remember once, I was sat in a meeting with a black employee and a human resources manager over a complaint.

“They asked, ‘As a black man, have you ever experienced racism previously in your life?’, at which point I literally had to throw my hands in the air.

“Are you seriously asking a black man, whether he has ever experienced racism before in his life? I thought to myself: what is the relevance to the complaint at hand?

“The council has still kept the report from the public. It’s still not a public document despite councillor Harley saying that they would act on any findings.

“I’d like to see people being treated better and properly. It needs a whole scale culture change, and that starts at the top. It starts with an acknowledgement of what the issue is.”

Ghiyas Somra, research manager at brap, said: “The review we undertook was wide-ranging and drew on the experiences of hundreds of staff. We believe it provides a firm foundation for the council to take action on this agenda.

“It’s in the interests of staff and the local community that the council moves quickly to address the inequalities facing Black and minoritized employees.”

In December 2020, Patrick Harley, leader of Dudley council, said the local authority would “act on any findings transparently”.

But both unions have claimed that, 17 months on, the council has delayed the release of the report.

They say it a “deliberate attempt to airbrush” the reasons for the review.

Theresa Kelly, branch secretary of Unison, said: “I think it’s very damning that 17 months on, both Unite and Unison still do not know whether BAME members affected by the actions that prompted the collective grievance have been informed of the outcome of that grievance.

“It’s also very damning that the council decided not only delayed the release of the report, so that it could polish its equality and diversity credentials prior to its release, they then decided to convene an action planning meeting within a day of its eventual release.

“Despite objections to the short notice from Unison and Unite, they went ahead with the meeting in conjunction with a non-signatory trade union to the original grievance.

“These concerns are now being taken up with regional officers of both trade unions to hold the council to account on the outcomes of the review, but also the breach of its own procedures and its handling of the collective grievance.”

Lee Wiggetts-Clinton, regional officer at Unite, said: “The finds of the BRAP report are deeply concerning and it upholds the anxieties that Unite raised with the council in 2020.

“Unite is in the process of organising an urgent meeting with the senior leadership at Dudley council to understand how it intends to tackle the report’s findings.

“Unite is determined to play an active role in transforming the culture and attitudes at Dudley council.”

Dudley Council House.

Dudley council issued their own press release after the LDRS approached them after receiving a leaked copy of the report.

Councillor Patrick Harley, leader of Dudley council, said: “We know we haven’t always got it right, which is why we commissioned this review.

“It is not acceptable that our BAME employees are more likely to face disciplinary processes, experience bullying and not have fair access to promotion opportunities.

“Following this review, we will now be challenging ourselves to do much better.

“We will focus on a robust plan and ensure we develop equality and diversity both at every level of our workforce and in the policies implemented by this authority.

“We will create a safe and inclusive workplace where ethnicity is not a barrier to recruitment and progression and where people feel confident to stamp out racism at all levels.

“We are committed to a culture of zero tolerance of harassment and bullying of our BAME employees.

“There’s no place for any form of inequality anywhere in our borough and as a council we need to lead the way in addressing it.”

(Local Democracy Reporting Service)

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