Council and charity try to defuse anti-racism funding row

Northumberland County Council and Show Racism the Red Card have tried to draw a line under a row sparked by the council’s decision to end a contract.

Tuesday, 30th April 2019, 9:15 am
Updated Tuesday, 30th April 2019, 9:25 am
Northumberland County Council. Picture by Jane Coltman

Conciliatory statements from both parties have now been released, which comes ahead of a planned public rally, calling for the local authority to reinstate funding for the anti-racism charity to provide workshops in schools, ahead of the full council meeting tomorrow (Wednesday, May 1).

In March, it was reported that the council had opted to end its contract – which was worth £16,800 in 2018-19 – with North East-based Show Racism the Red Card (SRtRC).

This sparked a petition that has now attracted more than 3,800 signatures and plenty of activity on social media pushing for a reversal of the decision.

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But the authority hit back, with councillors and officers expressing their frustration at what they felt had been ‘sensationalised, politically motivated and misleading’ coverage, as well as ‘the inference that this authority is racist’. Last week, a statement reiterated that the authority was ‘appalled by the campaign’ against its ‘completely legitimate decision’.

But at a meeting yesterday (Monday, April 29), where the issue was discussed, Coun Wayne Daley, the cabinet member for children’s services, revealed that a ‘refreshing conversation’ has now taken place between representatives of the council and charity.

In light of this, both sides have issued new statements on the matter.

Ged Grebby, chief executive of SRtRC, said: “Show Racism the Red Card would like to place on record our thanks to Northumberland County Council (NCC) for supporting our charity since 1996 and in particular the funding of our schools work over the last 10 years.

“We are unhappy with the press and media claiming that we have ended our relationship with NCC, as that is simply not the case. We are still working in Northumberland schools and have plans to apply to the council for delivering teacher training in the future.

“We are disappointed that the direct anti-racism work we do in schools will not be funded by the council and believe we had a right to make that point to councillors and the public. We recognise the good practice done by NCC around other equality strands and hope to work with them again in the future.”

A council spokeswoman said: “We have met with representatives from SRtRC again recently, and have come to a more mutual understanding about the current issues from both of our perspectives.

“We hope that despite not renewing this specific service level agreement with the charity, we will still be able to explore opportunities for joint working in the future – where their skills can be used when needed for targeted interventions within Northumberland.

“We are glad that the charity has acknowledged our support over the last 10 years. We fully understand their disappointment at this commissioning change, however, as a council we have a duty to ensure that the wide range of support for all of our schools and young people is provided consistently throughout the county.

“Since the decision was made to focus on a wider range of anti-discriminatory measures in Northumberland, our door has always been open for the charity to talk to us about how they could support these vital new strands. We wish that this offer had been taken up from day one by the charity instead of involving press in what is and remains, a non-political issue of fairness and social justice.”

At Monday’s meeting, the report to councillors explained how the revised Ofsted inspection framework, to be introduced from September, ‘places a high level of importance on a school’s ability to challenge all forms of discrimination’.

Given this, Coun Daley highlighted how the council was focused on ‘ensuring the full, wide spectrum of anti-discrimination education is tackled’.

Addressing the ‘media storm’ about the decision to end the contract, he said: “Running through this council’s DNA is fairness and equality.”

He outlined the various anti-discrimination initiatives which have been carried out by the council, to the total value of £137,000.

“This report is actually a celebration of the really good stuff that’s happening in our county,” he added.

“I’m proud that this administration, council and the staff are leading a very strong message to our communities that we will not tolerate discrimination in any way, shape or form.”

Coun Cath Homer said: “To say the press coverage was disappointing is an understatement given the amount of work we do.”

Coun Veronica Jones added: “I’m particularly proud of the work we do in this county, not just in schools.”

Coun Daley also pointed out that the report referred to an equalities fund, which will be available from the council ‘to commission bespoke and targeted interventions and workshops where there is an identified challenge which any organisation will be able to request access to if there is a demonstrated need’.

He said he would welcome applications for this from Show Racism the Red Card.

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service