In the midst of a global pandemic, the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers one year ago created shockwaves around the world.
This terrible crime became a catalyst that amplified and accelerated action to tackle racial inequality and injustice, which was also emerging as an aggravating factor in the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Black Lives Matter movement came forward as a focal point for protest and action. We saw communities across the UK refusing to accept a world where Black people are discriminated against and killed. Whether participating in demonstrations or speaking in the media, key public figures and ordinary citizens put pressure on government, institutions and individuals to commit to change.
In London local government we are proud of our diverse communities - 40% of Londoners are from ethnic groups - and we are serious about our role in improving racial equality in the capital. We listened to the anger and grief expressed by our Black residents and we saw how this was a direct result of widespread racial inequality and injustice that affects all ethnic minorities. We knew we had to stand with our communities and act with more urgency and ambition than ever before.
One year on, we have made progress on pan-London, collaborative work, but we know that there is so much more to do.
It has been fantastic to see our pan-London Tackling Racial Equality programme, led by Kim Smith, Chief Executive of Hammersmith and Fulham, take shape. Established to ensure there is city-wide leadership and collaboration, complementing actions being taken in boroughs, it has harnessed the energy created by the events of last year to drive the race equality agenda forward in the capital.
After careful consideration, the programme agreed three key themes where we could add value to work being done by individual boroughs:
- Growing more visible and impactful senior leadership, both within authorities, but also across partnerships and our ‘places’.
- Doing much more as large employers to promote diversity, become more culturally aware and support staff development
- Building/promoting and sharing best practice.
We’ve had overwhelming support, with more than 100 officers volunteering to engage with the programme and deliver action. This means we have a network of people across London boroughs and the City of London Corporation who are committed to creating a foundation for real change. With a robust governance framework and widespread buy-in, we’re aiming to ensure the programme’s work is sustainable and has a big impact.
We have also engaged with key London borough networks, including Heads of HR, recruitment firms and London Leadership Programme Alumni, and we are working on service improvements and systems leadership in areas like housing, health, crime/policing, skills and employment and climate change. There are so many opportunities within local government for more to be done.
With networks, relationships and resource in place, one of our first steps has been to commission a ground-breaking ethnicity and pay band survey of 87,000 workers across all London boroughs. We were able to identify trends across our workforce, benchmark across authorities and begin developing solutions around development opportunities, breaking ‘glass ceilings’ and improving representation across service areas.
We are also seeking to develop our thinking around ethnic groups/classifications – when we ask about ethnicity, how we ask and the options given. This might sound simple, but there is a current crucial lack of best practice. We recognise the importance of identity and the inconsistency across our engagement with local communities to capture people’s ethnic background. Everyone should have the option to select the classification most suitable for them which also helps to improve our understanding of local demographics and community needs. In London local government we are seeking to create a culture that aims to understand and tailor initiatives or solutions towards different ethnicities, cultures and communities.
Local authority leaders across London have expressed their support for raising our collective game on racial equality, signing up to a shared statement at London Councils’ Leaders Committee committing to action to create a fairer and more equal society.
As a council leader myself, I am acutely aware of the role I and fellow elected members play in showing leadership on this agenda and in supporting emerging talent from all our communities and across the political spectrum. With the next round of London borough elections just one year away, the challenge is clear to all of London’s political groups to demonstrate our commitment to this agenda.
Today our thoughts are with George Floyd’s loved ones, especially his children and grandchildren, as well as the Black community around the world. We know London’s Black community and us as their allies will be grieving too.
Our work across London local government owes a great debt to his legacy.
There is a long road ahead, but with so much injustices to right and so many opportunities to make progress, we are proud to be on this journey with our workforce and our communities.
Cllr Muhammed Butt is London Councils’ Executive member for Welfare, Empowerment and Inclusion