My question relates to the Equality Plan on this evening’s agenda. In May 2021 there will be local elections in Wokingham Borough for Councillors and a Thames Valley Police Commissioner. The control of Wokingham Borough Council is likely to be on a knife edge and therefore, keenly contested. Just under 12% of Wokingham Borough Council Residents are non-whites and they are generally clustered in concentrated areas of the Borough. As the current Leader of the Council what will you tell them about how you and the Conservative led Council has positively engaged with the non-white community since their indignation about your Facebook post and your negative statements about Black Lives Matter last Spring/Summer?
Thank you for your question, although I have to say I find it very odd that you link the Council’s proposed Equality Plan with party politics and local elections. It is disappointing that a question introduced as ‘relating to the Equality Plan’ in fact does no such thing, because we do honestly and earnestly want questions and scrutiny on the plan itself.
However, to answer your question: since last summer I have repeatedly stated, at every available opportunity, my own and the Council’s commitment to tackling racism. We have consulted the public on what we need to do to eradicate racism and celebrate diversity; we have signed the Race at Work Charter to increase equality for our staff, and just as a footnote I would say that we have had a pandemic which has occupied our staff very much and ourselves. I have met you and other interested residents to positively engage on these issues and will continue to do so; we have worked to restore the BME Forum, including by funding an independent, highly experienced facilitator to help the forum function well for everybody; and we have ensured that our commitment to stamping out racism is at the heart of the Equality Plan that is on tonight’s agenda.
We have also engaged closely with ethnic minority groups and others in the community who are deemed to be at greater risk from Covid 19. This has included providing regular, targeted advice and support in many ways including with faith groups.
Despite what you may imply, this has nothing to do with party politics and everything to do with protecting and serving all our residents to the best of our abilities. I sincerely hope that you can find it within yourself to work with us and help us improve and enact our Equality Plan and our anti racist stance.
I have a signed agreement with you about engaging the community and the processes by which the Council will adopt, which has been ignored. When these people come to me, people of colour come to me, and say what should we do? How should we vote? What are they doing for us? Should I say to them that you and the Council you lead are incompetent, untrustworthy or duplicitous? Which?
Neither Keith. Your questions are always leading questions so you really should not use this agenda for party politics. It is very, very dangerous. You are certainly a man who understands that. Whoever is in this position will have an Equality Policy that they need to take forward, and I am determined that we will take it forward.