Two and a half years after Lord Herman Ouseley reported on Southwark's equalities record and procedures, the Labour Group thought that it was timely to review progress in implementing the 35 recommendations which he had made, and tabled a series of questions and a motion for debate at last night's Council Assembly. We could not have been clearer in giving warning to the Executive member with responsibility for equalities of our intentions, so that he could come to the Council Chamber fully briefed and ready to deal with any queries we raised.
So it was profoundly disappointing that Cllr Columba Blango chose to simply berate the fact that Labour had raised the subject and failed to display any grasp of his portfolio responsibilities last night. And remember that he draws £43,000 of Council Tax payers money for the post he holds!
Lord Ouseley's review came about as a result of specific concerns within the Black and Minority Ethnic ('BME') community in Southwark and amongst the Council's staff and it was this area of equalities with which he was particularly concerned. For example, a disproportionate number of Southwark Council's BME staff had been subject to disciplinary proceedings, and there was no apparent plan to increase the number of BME staff in senior posts. So it was fairly shocking to find in response to written questions which we had submitted that Southwark apprarently no longer monitors the ethnic profile of those subject to disciplinary proceedings and the number of senior BME staff has decreased from 17.2% to 15.7%.
Cllr Blango's response to both of these concerns was that he was confident that there was no problem with BME staff and disciplinary proceedings (although how he knows is a complete mystery) and that we can't expect the number of senior BME staff on the Council to increase overnight. Exactly, but what action plan was he going to put in place to try and increase the percentage of BME staff was our response?
This led to contributions from Council Leader Nick Stanton and his increasingly volatile Tory Deputy Kim Humphreys about very senior staff appointments by members over the past twelve months which; deliberately or not; completely missed the point.
This was a serious attempt by the Labour Group to probe the Ouseley review and the Council's progress in apparently "mainstreaming" the report's recommendations. As it took six weeks for some fairly simple questions to be answered by various departments, and then for all those answers to come from one officer, we are far from convinced that "mainstreaming" has occurred.
The response of Cllrs Stanton and Humphreys to the debate was disappointing - but they have not often felt comfortable on previous occasions when we have debated these issues.
But the performance of Cllr Blango was simply astonishing. He had failed to prepare for the questions which were put to him or the debate that followed. He failed to exhibit any understanding of the importance of the subject or what he might do in his Executive role to promote greater action to deal with the 10 recommendations from Lord Ouseley which still require urgent attention. In short, he was not up to his job. In any other sphere of work Cllr Blango would be considering his position this morning, and others would be giving him advice on what he should do. My advice is simple - he should resign.