Havering Council is ‘lagging behind’ in taking diversity action, says Labour councillor

PUBLISHED: 19:22 04 June 2020 | UPDATED: 19:26 04 June 2020

Barking Town Hall lit up in purple in support of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement. Picture: Jimmy Lee

Barking Town Hall lit up in purple in support of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement. Picture: Jimmy Lee

Jimmy Lee Photography

“If I were to say that Havering has made strides, I would be lying,” says Councillor Tele Lawal, talking to the Recorder about Havering Council’s support for the borough’s black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) community.

Tele Lawal, when she stood at the Labour candidate for Hornchurch and Upminster. Picture: Daniel OkpanachiTele Lawal, when she stood at the Labour candidate for Hornchurch and Upminster. Picture: Daniel Okpanachi

The 24-year-old, who represents Heaton, is one of just a handful of BAME councillors out of the current 54.

She wrote a detailed report in 2019 on race, equality and diversity with recommendations on what more the council should be doing.

She put forward recommendations of how to get diverse candidates for local government roles and how best to have the council represent the entire borough. Since then, she says, “nothing has been done”.

Cllr Lawal said: “I’ve lived in Havering my whole life so I am very much aware of the inequality issues we have, I feel that Havering Council is lagging behind compared to other local authorities in addressing some of these issues both with their own workforce and in the community.”

Since writing the document, she said that “discussions” have happened in the form of ‘cohesion strategy’, a four year plan to “foster good community relations and a complementary union between the council’s values and the borough’s evolving diversity profile.”

”The strategy said a lot, it was what was needed but in practicality that isn’t what is being done,” she added.

Following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month, the Labour politician called on the council to express solidarity with the BAME community.

“You know that there are Havering residents that identify as BAME and you’ve heard the report that an enquiry [into Floyd’s death] has been launched, where is Havering’s support?” she asked.

“Discussions and implementing things are different things, and nothing’s being done. The council think it’s enough having discussions, it’s not.

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“Barking and Dagenham decided to put the [town hall] lights up in respect to him, they didn’t have to do that. They chose to do that because they understand the demographic of their community.”

The death of Mr Floyd, who died after a police officer restrained him with his knee on his neck, sparked worldwide protests and gestures of solidarity.

During the height of the coronavirus pandemic, Cllr Lawal also felt that not enough was being done to acknowledge that the BAME communities were disproportionately affected by Covid-19.

“I was continuously asking, ‘where is our communication about it?’” she said. “I was told that we provide communications in different languages, to me that is not an answer.

“It should be ‘we understand that it disproportionately affects you, we get that you’re having to do Ramadan during Covid-19, we understand that the ethnic minorities are predominantly in the lower income households in our borough’ - this is the type of conversations that I want to see from Havering.

“I want to feel like my mum who is a social worker, and my dad who is a carer, both feel confident the council understands the issues that affect them.”

Council leader Cllr Damian White said: “Havering Council actively works against racism and discrimination and we do not tolerate it. Like every institution across the country, we all have more to do to tackle it.

“We work with multi-agency partners like the police as well as community groups on issues including hate crime and community cohesion. We hold community forums and internal staff forums to provide opportunities to understand and discuss the issues and evidence and agree action.

“That work recently has included research to understand the impacts of Covid-19 on black, Asian and minority ethnic staff and residents so we can act to help people be safer.”

In a separate statement addressing the death of Mr Floyd, he added: “During the past few months I have been humbled at the way communities from all races and backgrounds in Havering have come together to support each other at a time of shared crisis. We have shown solidarity and kindness. It has been a reminder of what makes Havering a truly special place.

“Recent and tragic events in America are a stark reason for us to champion this spirit of acceptance and inclusivity. In Havering we must always reject racism, inequality and discrimination in all forms.”

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