Members of the public have asked questions of Stroud District Council‘s policies to tackle racism a week after a councillor apologised after sharing racist tweets.
Complaints made against Conservative councillor Debbie Young, who retweeted posts from Katie Hopkins and a US-based Donald Trump supporter branding Black Lives Matters protesters “anti-fascist terrorists”, are being dealt with by the council’s monitoring officer.
Cllr Young did not attend tonight’s meeting and council leader Doina Cornell stated: “We won’t allow questions which relate to matters being dealt with by the code of conduct of the council.”
Six members of the public asked questions at tonight’s meeting of the council’s strategy and resources committee.
Lucy Moat asked whether councillors were made aware of what a ‘race hate’ social media account looked like. In response Cllr Cornell said that although councillors received training on the code of conduct and use of social media, there is no specific reference to race.
In response to a question from Sabrina Pace-Humphreys Cllr Cornell said equalities training scheduled to take place after the local elections was cancelled because the elections were postponed for a year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Media training, which includes the use of social media, was also delayed for the same reason.
Refresher training will be arranged as an interim measure and councillors have this week received an online equalities training course.
Cllr Cornell said details of the exact nature of the training would be made public and that there were plans to develop the existing equality and diversity training.
The council’s Equality Policy should have been reviewed in April but this has been delayed as a result of coronavirus.
In response to a question about racism in the workplace chief executive of the council Kathy O’Leary said: “Although there are no apparent issues of racism and there have been no recent complaints about racism in the workplace it would be complacent to say this means it is not an issue.
“We are promoting conversations with our BAME staff to listen and understand what more we can do to promote equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
“This will help us as we review our policies and procedures to ensure they are fit for purpose and put in place training plans for our staff and members.”
Resident Miriam Lewis was invited to speak at the start of the meeting about her experience as a BAME resident in Stroud, including the time someone tried to break into her flat.
“It was absolutely terrifying to have that feeling of somebody trying to break into your flat because of the colour of your skin. “It’s important to hear our voices and realise that although we live in a lovely town there are these issues and they are still happening.
“We are not anti-white we are fighting for people to become anti-racist and stand with us to achieve this equality,” she said.
Leader of the council Doina Cornell said: “In recent days we’ve heard powerful stories of the racism which exists in our own community.
“We’ve sadly seen racist graffiti on our streets, we’ve seen racist posts on all social media platforms challenging the legitimacy of black protest and denying that racism happens here. This is not acceptable.
“As a child I was lucky enough to travel the world with my parents. Racism was something I learnt about in the books I read but it was only when I came home to 1980s that I experienced it for myself.
“I grew up and thought it was all history for me until a few years ago when I was a teacher and a former pupil of mine used a racist word to describe me to my daughter.
“As I finished writing these words today which I’ve written for you to hear I realise they are also written for that 14-year-old I once was who didn’t share with anyone the pain she went through when she was told she didn’t belong in the place she was born.
“We condemn all racism against BAME people in our district. We condemn all the ways it appears on brick walls, on social media and above all in the way BAME people are treated.”
Setting out the council’s plans to tackle the issue she said: “We need to all we do as a council to ensure we are an inclusive and anti-racist organisation. We must commit to reviewing existing anti-racist and anti-discrimination policies and practices including training for our members and staff and take action to strengthen these if required.
“Secondly, we will work with everyone in our community to amplify minority ethnic voices across our district and hear from them as to how best we can focus our efforts.
“Thirdly, we need to consult with the community on any street and building names or streets, statues and architectural features that may be considered offensive and if any actions need to be taken.
“We must consult on how best to educate ourselves about our history, the local legacy of slavery and the local historical contribution of BAME people to our district.”
information on training
Tracey Vincent equality policy to be reviewed
reviewing code of conduct