A damning report suggests discrimination is “normalised” at Havering Council and that staff have become “demoralised” by the lack of action against it.
In May, the council submitted to a voluntary review of its inclusiveness, conducted by the Local Government Association (LGA).
The review revealed “disturbing” and “much-repeated” allegations, such as incidents of assault going unreported to the police, and that staff have “widespread negative views” of the council as an equal employer.
A spokesperson for Havering Council said the report showed the council has “a long way to go” but highlighted the steps being taken to improve, such as mandatory training for all managers and councillors.
The LGA wrote: “Examples were shared with us where an assault or abuse had taken place, but the police were not called and customers were not challenged appropriately.
“Partly because of this type of inaction, there are a lot of demoralised black, Asian and minority ethnic staff at the London Borough of Havering.
“The much-repeated allegations of ‘casual racism’ and ‘casual sexism’ being widespread were disturbing, as were the examples of racism, sexism and discriminatory behaviour towards disabled people shared with the review team.”
Under the Equality Act, public bodies such as Havering Council can be challenged in the courts if they fail in their duty to advance equality and eliminate discrimination, harassment, or victimisation.
When speaking about their legal obligations, some councillors were reported saying “we aren’t employees, so it doesn’t apply to us”, while other staff described a “culture of no consequences”.
Calling for urgent training to address this, the report warns: “The PSED applies to the council, not to individuals, and all those representing the council need to comply with it as part of their work, either as a councillor, officer, or third party.
“The team heard several examples of how not all managers are delivering their responsibilities around their duty of care to all staff and colleagues. This includes little acknowledgement that racism has occurred.
“There is a system for reporting incidents (for example racism), but little knowledge of or confidence in this system.”
However, Havering was praised for inviting the LGA team to visit, showing it is “keen to reflect, be challenged and improve”.
Responding to the report, a Havering Council spokesperson said: “Carrying out an independent review is something many employers shy away from. We did this because we chose to.
“We wanted an open assessment of the issues we must tackle to support our brilliant workforce to do their best for Havering residents.
“The report made clear that good practice is happening across the council and… we have already made promises to our workforce addressing many of the issues raised.
“Supported by committed and active staff forums, we are opening up conversations about difficult topics and putting in place the right policies and processes to make progress.
“We have a long way to go but this report, and the work we are doing with managers, trade unions and active and supported staff forums, will help us to build a modern, inclusive workforce in an anti-discrimination organisation.”