Institutional racism findings at council is a ‘wake-up call’

By Ollie Heptinstall   |   Local Democracy Reporter   |
Thursday 24th March 2022 6:17 pm
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Dr Phil Norrey, chief executive of Devon County Council (Image: DCC) 2021
Dr Phil Norrey, chief executive of Devon County Council (Image: DCC) (DCC )

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A DAMNING report which found institutional racism at Devon County Council is a “wake-up call,” according to its chief executive.

Dr Phil Norrey was responding to a recent race equality audit, commissioned by the council, which discovered “present, pervasive and dangerous” levels of racism within the council.

The audit gathered evidence from interviews with councillors, staff and senior leaders, and found ‘numerous examples of institutional racism’.

It was separated into six main themes, which included ‘denial of racism’, a ‘lack of sufficient leadership’ and an ‘unwelcoming culture for black and Asian people’.

Among its recommendations, it said the council should ‘shift from a culture of inertia, avoidance and fear to one of curiosity, sensitivity, empathy and inclusivity,’ while also expanding a race mentoring programme to managers and to employ a ‘diverse and skilled’ equality team.

Dr Norrey, who has apologised and accepted the audit’s findings, said in a report to a council scrutiny meeting this week that it made for ‘uncomfortable reading’ and was a ‘wake-up call for all of us’.

He continued: ‘It highlights that we all need to do more to ensure black, Asian and other ethnically diverse staff feel included and are able to express their needs and experiences safely.

‘We all share a responsibility to challenge racist behaviour and call out racism within the council and our local communities.”

Addressing councillors on Thursday, Dr Norrey admitted the council had not been doing enough to tackle racism.

‘We don’t set out as a council to be racist, but nor have we set out to be anti-racist and that is, I think, a message at the heart of the report.

‘You can’t stand on the fence on this one and say ‘I’m not a racist’, you actually have to do something about it and that’s something that we all have a responsibility for.’

The chief executive said the problem was also having an impact on recruitment: ‘What we’re being told is that [the council] is not seen as somewhere that’s particularly welcoming if you’re from a black, Asian, ethnically diverse background.’

In response, the council is putting more money into its equality, diversity and inclusion team in the upcoming financial year and is developing an anti-racism framework to be adopted across the council.

Further investment will also include improvements in training, further learning and development, support for voluntary and community organisations, and improving access to services.

‘It’s a real opportunity for us to address some issues that we should have addressed with a bit more vigour, and I take responsibility for that as a chief executive,’ Dr Norrey said.

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