Memorandum submitted by the Central Scotland Racial Equality Council Ltd (CRE 5)
1.1 Central Scotland Racial Equality Council Ltd (CSRECL) welcomes the opportunity to submit our views, the current situation and future of racial equality of Scotland to the Scottish Affairs Committee.
1.2 CSRECL has been in existence since 1984 and is an autonomous voluntary organisation which brings together representatives from the statutory authorities, voluntary organisations and individuals who support the aims of the Council. CSRECL employs four members of staff and managed by a Board of Directors.
1.3 CSRECL is working towards a racism-free Central Scotland which gives everyone an equal chance to learn, work and live free from discrimination and prejudice and from the fear of racial harassment and violence.
1.4 CSRECL has been successful in supporting victims of racial discrimination and harassment, developing positive initiatives in Health, Employment, Education and Criminal Justice, and providing capacity building for ethnic minority communities.
1.5 CSRECL operates in semi-rural catchments areas with scattered ethnic minority populations of 2,000 people. Furthermore they are spread over the three local authority areasFalkirk, Stirling and Clackmannanshire. There are no structured community organisations or groups that could provide additional or alternative support to people experiencing racism or requiring specific culturally sensitive services. As such CSRECL is called upon to address a whole range of issues and concerns for minority ethnic people. For example refugees and asylum seekers either in the local prisons or in guarantor's accommodations, expect support from CSRECL. Small groups and individuals who, require information, advice about services or resources etc, also seek assistance from us.
1.6 In addition local institutions and organisations access our services such as training, and consultancy on developing policies and service delivery.
1.7 CSRECL has also played a key role in the development National and Scottish Race Equality Agenda. For the last three years, the Chief Executive of CSRECL has been a member of Home Office Race Relations Forum and Scottish Executive Racial Equality Advisory Forum.
1.8 In our work in Central Scotland, we respond to the concerns and anxieties of ethnic minority people who fear the impact of national and global incidents. For example CSRECL saw the rise of racial incidents following the "11 September" incident and the riots in England.
1.9 For details of CSRECL past activities and achievements, please see the enclosed annual reports and summary of ACONA's interview with CSRECL.
2. Relationship with CRE
2.1 CSRECL supports the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) Modernising Agenda. In fact CSRECL has been advocating for change locally in accordance with the KPMG report, which was commissioned by CRE in March 1996 to undertake a fundamental review of the public service role of Racial Equality Councils (RECs). Conclusion of the KPMG review was that:
Local racial equality work is important and local RECs, although always changing and evolving, have an important part to play in that work
RECs should, in the main, be best able to order their own affairs in terms of constitution and staffing. We (KPMG) believe that the CRE will wish to judge RECs by how well they perform against locally determined priorities.
2.2 CSRECL considered the modernising agenda as beneficial because, we hoped that, it would lead to better support for users, better working conditions for members of staff and better race relations for the whole society. We had hoped that modernisation of racial equality would bring about greater accountability of institutions and organisations within the public, private and voluntary sectors. More importantly it would remove the potential tension that arises from REC taking the bodies that fund them to Tribunals for discrimination. This has been referred to as "biting the hand that feeds you".
2.3 Our concerns mainly lie with the process and the consequences of the proposed changes by CRE Scotland.
2.4 Historically RECs were linked to CRE in two ways: a) jointly funded by CRE and local authorities and b) delivering CRE racial equality objectives at a local level. For many years CSRECL staff have been under-funded, under-resourced and overworked. CSREC also contended with local opposition, threats and institutional racism from various organisations when challenged about their practices.
2.5 The link between RECs and CRE also meant that CSRECL would be at the receiving end of any public criticisms when the public was disenchanted with CRE activities. A good example is the "spoof advertising campaign". In some cases, CSRECL received criticism from clients who did not receive adequate service from CRE after we had referred them to CRE.
3. Modernising Local Equality Work
3.1 In 2000 CRE announced their plans to restructuring RECs however at the time it was very unclear how this restructuring was going to take place. It was feared that some smaller RECs would disappear. The RECs expressed their concerns and in November 2000 a letter from Susie Parson confirmed the changes and also affirmed the professional relationship between CRE and RECs.
3.2 Attempts were made to unite the RECs in Scotland but the pressure of work prevented the RECs to have a collective voice.
3.3 Early 2001 CRE Scotland embarked on a Modernising Local Racial Equality Work Consultation conducted by ACONA Consultancy. CSRECL supported this consultation by attending all focus group meetings and by encouraging partners and users of the service to engage in the process. Unfortunately the scope of the consultation did not enable a wider involvement of major stakeholders especially young people and people who had experienced direct and indirect racism.
3.4 The process for change was rushed and unclear. REC's are expected to comply or lose their funding.
3.5 The proposals by ACONA, though not conclusive, suggest a centralised model with remote control from CRE in Edinburgh. This goes against the grain of latest government commitment to inclusion, best value and local democracy. The essential work of community development and intensive support for victims of racism will be watered down and this will lead to greater isolation and breakdown of trust. CSRECL as the monitoring agency of RAHMAS deals with the highest number of reported incidents. Despite this, we know that there is a great deal of under-reporting. We fear that the trust we have built and our future strategies for integrating communities will be lost if CSRECL disappears.
4. Changes within CRE Scotland
4.1 CSRECL is please about the new changes and development in CRE Edinburgh because it is important for the Commission to have the status and position that commands respect. However, this should not be at the expense of REC work at the local level. The users of REC services and the staff deserve better working conditions, security of employment and good working relationship with public, private and voluntary sector policy makers.
4.2 During the period of change, CRE Scotland was distancing itself from the RECs in a very noticeable manner. For example a number of conferences were organised and RECs were not consulted or included. This led to speculations and rumours of imminent closures of RECs in Scotland.
5.1 The modernising agenda lacks the clarity about what will happen to users in Central Scotland if CSRECL is not successful in raising alternative funds. Ordinary people often describe CRE as remote and out of touch with issues on the ground. All CSRECL staff were recruited for their expertise, skills and commitment to racial equality. How will this agenda plan to replace those qualities if the funding is diverted to other organisations that have no track record in racial equality?
5.2 The speculations about closures of RECs destabilise and demoralise the staff and board members. In addition, RECs received damning letters from CRE that created a rift critically affected the positive working relationship that used to exist between CRE and RECs.
6. Ways Forward
6.1 Strengthening of the CRE/REC partnership should be a priority and this will lead to mutual benefits for the two organisations and for the users of our services. CRE cannot eliminate racism on its own. It needs REC on the ground to monitor progress, while CRE develops, influences and promotes policies that can lead to good practice. Victims of racism are clearly not impressed by razz mataz of endless conferences, launches and consultations that do not change the status quo.
6.2 CRE must become more transparent, accountable and consistent in their approach across the whole of UK.
6.3 In dealing with RECs and other organisations, CRE should practice the principles outlined in their Core Standards document, "Officers will apply their knowledge in a supportive, positive and consistent way while being objective and fair and maintaining our (CRE) interests as a funder". It is not good practice to rely purely on their newly found powers under the RRAA 2000. Racism is essentially about power relationships and CRE will lose its credibility if it assumes that centralising power is the way forward.
6.4 CRE must be totally inclusive of the ordinary and powerless people. Racism cannot be eliminated by working only with the powerful and influential people and organisations. The real victims of racism must be at the heart of any activity or policy that CRE and RECs are engaged in.
6.5 In spite of all these hardships, CSRECL have remained strong in our links with communities. We have extensive knowledge, experience and expertise on racial issues and needs of the communities at the local level. CSRECL is working towards creating a society where the human rights of all people in Central Scotland are respected and upheld regardless of their colour, ethnic or national origins, gender, religion etc.
4 ACONA Consultancy was contracted by CRE Scotland to conduct the Modernising Local Racial Equality Work Consultation. Back
5 Not published, available from Central Scotland Racial Equality Council Ltd. Back