Mar 022018
 

Addressing disparities and equality gaps in St Albans
The feature is based on the Council’s response to my enquiries.The Race Disparity Audit Report published by the government last year
recognised that:
“There are disparities between ethnic groups in all areas of life affected by public organisations.Some are more pronounced than others or have a greater impact on people’s life chances and quality of life. In some areas, disparities are reducing, while in others they are static or increasing.”
In November 2017, St Albans City and District Council launched its Inclusion Strategy for 2017 -2020. Its aim is to build an inclusive community where everyone has the opportunity and support to take part in and contribute to community life. The Council in its strategy recognises that some people and communities may require additional support to reach their full potential and participate in community life.Within its strategy, the Council has identified current priority areas for inclusion as Age, Disability, Race,Religion and Belief. By targeting its resources in these areas, its aim is to work to reduce the equalities gap.Examples of some key actions that relate to these priority areas are as follows:
– Carry out detailed study on the current population to identify issues and challenges.
– Use findings to undertake targeted work to build community networks and engagement in each area to help support specific needs identified e.g. youth provision, isolated elderly and black and minority ethnic groups.
– Monitor delivery of services against all protected characteristics and target resources where gaps are identified with the aim to help ensure that inequalities do not arise and to respond to the changing needs of our community.

The Council needs first to understand the specific challenges faced by communities locally.The key objectives identified in the Delivery Plan for 2018 are:
– To understand our communities, the needs and concerns of local people, and respond to them.
– To involve local people in decision making to ensure an active democracy.
– To encourage and empower all local people to become involved in community projects and play an active role in community life.
– To ensure access to information and feedback for local people
and organisations.
Questions & Answers
I set out below some specific questions that I posed to the Council and their feedback.
Q. How is implementation of the plan going so far?
A. “We are on track with the Inclusion Strategy delivery plan. Our Community Grants programme has successfully funded a number of projects to support the priority areas identified in the strategy. These include:
• a project at St Nicholas Church in Harpenden, to bring people from different communities together;
• Herts Practical Parenting Programme who are providing a specialist project aimed at supporting BAME families in the district.
• Internally we are implementing Equalities training for elected Members as well as officers. This will ensure that the principles and practices of inclusion are embedded across the work of the Council.”
Q. What linkages are likely with the Council’s wider Local Plan in terms of “community facilities” for meeting BAME communities needs?
A. “The first consultation on the local plan is open until 21st February. There are 14 points across the district where residents can view the local plan exhibition and comments are welcomed online as well as via email and post. The plan can be made available in different languages as well as accessible formats and we very much encourage all members of the community to contribute their views. In line with national policy the infrastructure will include community facilities to support the number of houses identified. We will continue to work closely with the community to identify the specific needs for facilities.”

Q. What schemes are being developed locally through engagement with employers to provide greater opportunities for paid internship mentoring, apprenticeships and volunteering specifically for BAME youngsters?
A. “The Council has a programme of graduate placements, internships and apprenticeships. We source graduates through the National Development Graduate Scheme (NDGP) and directly for some areas. We also work closely with Oaklands College and the University of
Hertfordshire to promote our apprenticeships and internships to ensure these opportunities are advertised widely to all their students as well as within the wider community. We had a number of employees going through these programme over the past two years, up to 11
candidates were from BAME backgrounds.” We are developing further volunteering at the new St Albans Museum and Gallery, which is
due to open Summer 2018. We are working with YC Hertfordshire and other local youth groups to create brand new ambassador opportunities for young people to become engaged with the museum. In particular we are targeting young people who may not have been involved with participation before, including those from BAME backgrounds.”
Q. What are the more significant emerging issues so far from work already undertaken (e.g., isolation, hate crime)?
A “Isolation is an issue for some of our residents and may be more so for those who are older, from BAME backgrounds and with disabilities/ mental health needs. We have in place specific action plan to tackle loneliness in the district. This includes commissioning projects to increase our information on services for older people and supporting community groups to expand their volunteering workforce. We will ensure these current initiatives fully reach residents from BAME backgrounds and very much welcome discussions on further proposals from BAME community groups.
Working with the police and our voluntary sector partners we have robust systems in place to respond to hate crime We monitor incidents through the Community Safety Partnership and our partners at Citizen Advice are shortly to become a Hate Crime Third Party reporting centre. As part of this initiative Council front line customer services staff are also being trained.”
Jagat Chatrath
BAME Officer, St Albans Constituency Labour Party
26 February 2018
ALL DIFFERENT – ALL EQUAL