To consider an interim update on the progress made with regards to the BME Forum
The Committee considered a presentation, set out in agenda pages 5 to 10, which gave an update on progress made with regards to the BME forum.
The presentation outlined that there was a clear passion within the Borough for the forum to succeed within our communities. The desire was to evolve the forum into an independent organisation which sought to progress equality and build capacity within the Borough’s ethnic minority communities. The forum would work with external organisations to help develop new and evolving structures and guiding principles that were more compatible with changing communities. Wokingham Borough Council (WBC) welcomed the development of such a model which would help to foster a greater independence and a conversational approach between the Council and all of the ethnic minority communities within the Borough through the forum.
ShahidYounis (Deputy Executive for Insight and Change), Deana Humphries (Community Engagement Lead), and Mark Redfearn (Head of Localities Service) attended the meeting to answer Member queries.
During the ensuing discussions, Members raised the following points and queries:
· It was noted that the report had been received by WBC officers in consultation with Lead Members rather than by Full Council.
· What evidence was there that VCS/Local Authority type models work? Officer response – Projects in neighbouring authorities such as Acre-Reading and Community Matters in West Berkshire were examples of organisations that were independent of the Local Authority but worked very much in the way that WBC were hopeful that the BME Forum would work in the future. The Acre-Reading organisation had been running for many years, and this was the next step of independence for the forum.
· It was noted that officers had looked at a range of best practice examples, including organisations in London and Birmingham where there was a diverse range of different people and groups from a range of cultures and communities.
· What were the goals and priorities of the forum? Officer response – This would be for the future Forum to decide and agree.
· How many people were consulted by Judeline Nicholas Associates (JNA) and how many different ethnic backgrounds were reached via the consultation? Officer response – The full report would be circulated to Members to give them more background regarding these points. Data relating to how many different backgrounds were reached was not available at the moment, although less people with an Afro-Caribbean background responded than was expected.
· Which Local Authorities retained a bespoke forum model? Officer response – Not all Local Authorities were researched, however Local Authorities within Berkshire and examples of best practice from London and the North West were included within the research. This research had suggested that the former model for the forum was an outlier, and that may other were taking different approaches.
· Had officers referred back to recommendations made during the previous Committee meeting where the BME Forum was discussed when producing this presentation? Officer response – JNA had been made aware of the background information, and an article celebrating Black history month had been published within the most recent edition of the Borough News. In some senses progress had been overtaken by the fact that BME Forum had been paused whilst the review was ongoing, but this would not stop the Forum in deciding how it wanted to progress next. The Council’s overall new Equality Strategy was picking up a variety of other actions, and there was an ethnically diverse staff group which were involved with the development of this strategy.
· How many groups and communities would officers ideally like to engage with? Officer response – Ideally all groups and communities across the Borough would be engaged with. All groups had been reached out to and contacted, and there had certainly been the opportunity for everybody to participate if they wanted to.
· How many groups had been engaged with as part of this consultation? Officer response – A list of consultees could be provided, however for privacy reasons not every group involved could be stated.
· Were the actions being undertaken hoped to achieve some active and positive engagement from different groups? Officer response – The BME Forum would be truly independent of WBC and would have a platform and the opportunity to be as inclusive as possible.
· Was there a small budget to support the work surrounding the BME Forum? Officer response – There was a small budget as part of the overall Equality Strategy in order to carry out this work.
· Was the July 2021 report regarding the BME Forum on the WBC website? Officer response – The report was on the WBC website and could be found by searching for the Wokingham BME Forum. A copy of the report could be circulated to the Committee.
· How much confidence was there that this review had reached out to a diverse range of groups and individuals? Officer response – There was high confidence that a wide range of persons and groups had been reached out to, however there was less confidence that they had all fed back into the consultation process.
· Would the new structure within the Borough be significantly different? Officer response – Officers did not wish to pre-determine the Forum’s wishes, however a lot of people did value many aspects of the previous approach, for example many liked meeting in the Shute End Council Chamber as they felt that it gave the Forum additional status.
· Had all age groups and genders been engaged with? Officer response – There had perhaps been a heavier focus on youth groups and activities, however the last forum meeting had a diverse range of adult ages and it was hoped that a wide variety of age groups were reached out to. The understanding was that there was a good mix of genders consulted, and the BME Forum had historically helped facilitate a number of programmes such as the healthy lifestyle project which included a good ranged of age groups and genders.
· The Committee were very interested in the progress of the Forum, and requested that a further update return to the Committee when the new model was ready to be shared.
· Were there a typical range of issues that were discussed in other Forums and groups in other areas? Officer response – Issues routinely looked at included educational attainment, policing and community safety, and health and wellbeing.
1) ShahidYounis, Deana Humphries and Mark Redfearn be thanked for attending the meeting;
2) Data relating to the range of groups and individual consultees be shared with the Committee;
3) The July 2021 report be circulated to the Committee;
4) A further update return to the Committee once the new Forum structure was in place.