Town Hall launches investigation into internal race claim

Claims black worker was unfairly removed from support role

Thursday, 3rd February — By Richard Osley

camden council 5 Pancras Square Image 2021-02-24 at 14.37.51 (5)

Camden Council 5PS headquarters in King’s Cross

THE Town Hall has launched an investigation into a report that a black staff member was unfairly removed from their role supporting councillors.

Camden’s chief executive, Jenny Rowlands, took immediate action after comments were made in an anti-racism training session on Thursday evening, which involved discussions between both council employees and elected politicians.

The full details of the incident or those involved have not been made public, nor the time period, and the council has stressed that the report came up in private circumstances during which officers should rightfully expect confidentiality.

Those who say they are aware of what was said, however, insist the case is serious enough to warrant a full inquiry and that Camden must show it has acted to protect staff where necessary, including looking at whether a councillor was directly involved in getting the support officer replaced and why.

One source said: “The council should know a ‘wait for Sue Gray’ response will not be acceptable, given how shocked people are about what has been said last week.”

In a message to councillors on Tuesday, Ms Rowlands said: “As soon as this happened I was contacted by the leader of the council [Georgia Gould] who asked me to ensure this disclosure is taken seriously and investigated. I want to assure you that there is a thorough and full investigation taking place and our priority is to ensure the staff member involved is protected and supported.”

Camden’s head of human resources, Jo Brown, has been tasked with the investigation and will report back to Ms Rowlands, although at this stage it is not clear how long that will take.

In the wake of the 2020 racial injustice protests that followed the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota, Camden declared itself an anti-racist council – this is different to simply not being racist, but involves calling out discrimination wherever it is seen. The council also reaffirmed a commitment to a zero tolerance approach to racism.

“When we started on this journey we were aware that some staff, rightly, had reservations about the impact and change we would be able to achieve,” said Ms Rowlands, in her message.

“With this in mind we entered into deep, honest and meaningful conversations with staff about their lived experiences whilst acknowledging that we would hear difficult and challenging stories from our black, Asian and other ethnic staff.”


Camden Council chief executive Jenny Rowlands took swift action to start an internal investigation

Camden also launched a review of the names of its streets, schools and buildings: Beckford School was renamed simply “West Hampstead Primary School” after it was discovered to be honouring slave-using trader William Beckford, while the name of imperialist Cecil Rhodes was removed from a council estate in Somers Town. It has been a point of pride for the council that it responded to the global protests and saw them as a moment for significant change.

Ms Rowlands added: “We are one of the only local authorities in the country to have undertaken such an extensive training programme and, whilst elements of it have been challenging, we have seen that the depth and breadth of the conversations have started to fundamentally shift the organisation’s response to inequality.

“It is important to recognise that this exercise has required a huge amount of trust in the organisation from our black, Asian and other ethnic staff and we have done a considerable amount of work to ensure they feel safe enough to do so.”

A council spokesperson confirmed that Cllr Gould and Ms Rowlands had ordered an investigation to take place “quickly and thoroughly”, adding: “The chief executive has written to all of those who participated in the event to inform them of this process. Once complete the senior officer will report in to the chief executive who will share the findings with elected members in a way that is sensitive to the colleague who shared this with us.”

They added: “We are determined to tackle racism and discrimination in all its forms, and we know that we need to go further and faster to achieve this. Everyone at the council has a role to play and that’s why everyone is involved in these discussions.”

• If you work for Camden Council and are in need of support or have lived through trauma, there is a confidential 24-hour support line which provides access to counsellors and impartial specialists.

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