10:14AM, Thursday 29 October 2020
A motion to diversify the council and create ‘an organisation open to all’ was met with some resistance on Tuesday.
The cross-party motion was put together by Cllr Ross McWilliams (Con, Cox Green), Cllr Wisdom Da Costa (WWRA, Clewer & Dedworth West), Cllr Stuart Carroll (Con, Boyn Hill) and Cllr Amy Tisi (Lib Dem, Clewer East).
It was presented by Cllr McWilliams during a full council meeting, held over Zoom.
Set out in three parts, the motion resolves to enable the collection of diversity data to inform how well the council and its members reflect the demographic make-up of the Royal Borough and the UK, and to identify steps to improve any disparity.
It also laid out the introduction of mandatory unconscious bias training for councillors and officers and encourage teaching and learning about Britain’s colonial past and slavery.
In addition, the motion endeavours to create ‘an organisation open to all’ and identify ‘the challenges and celebrate the achievements of people of colour in the Royal Borough’.
Cllr McWilliams said: “The motion before us tackles this hugely important matter soberly and with clear positive outcomes in mind.”
Cllr Da Costa who seconded the motion, said: “Let’s not kid ourselves, racism exists, structural inequalities exist.”
He said black people are ‘massively underrepresented on the council’ and ‘the situation is getting worse’ with the motion a pivotal one ‘towards equality and justice in this borough’.
Cllr Tisi said the council ‘should be seeking racial equity for its employees, members and the residents we represent and work for’.
She said: “As members we must set an example and educate ourselves through appropriate training, to prevent unintentional micro-aggressions of the kind I’ve sadly witnessed in council meetings.”
Cllr Tisi said she has seen ‘people repeatedly mixing up people’s names and confusing people’ and added there is a ‘lack of diversity in councillors’.
Cllr Maureen Hunt (Con, Hurley and Walthams) said the motion had been put forward with the best intentions but she did not know ‘where the extra bits are coming from’.
“We already have a code of conduct, a constitution and the equality and diversity act that we all follow,” she said. Cllr Hunt also took umbrage with the issue of unconscious bias training.
“It doesn’t necessarily follow that you can reduce bias and prejudice by explaining the psychology of it to people,” she said.
“I’ve found no useful argument for this annual mandatory unconscious bias training.”
Commenting on slavery, she said: “It’s far more important that people learn about slavery now, to help the people we have now, not from the past, that’s unfortunate.”
Cllr Leo Walters was in agreement with Cllr Hunt. He said: “I would love to support this motion, but I really can’t, it’s unnecessary. We have a law, the Equality Act 2010, which we all signed up to.”
Commenting on the third part of the motion, Cllr Walters said: “Why just the people of colour? What about all the other people who, maybe, are white, why can’t we celebrate their [achievements]? I think that’s discrimination in itself.”
He said the Royal Borough, as an organisation, is already ‘open to all’.
He said“I just see no need for this, it just raises the hare, it creates division and its quite unnecessary.”
He added: “It’s an opportunity for people to be vexatious in their accusations.”
The motion was carried with 31 councillors for, two against and seven abstentions.
Councillors were unanimous in voting to freeze members’ allowances at Tuesday’s meeting.
It follows a review by the Independent Remuneration Panel which recommended the basic allowance of £8,143 granted to every member should increase to £8,260.
Cabinet member for finance, councillor David Hilton (Con, Ascot and Sunninghill) said he would not be supporting the recommendation.
“I have no desire for my council allowance to be increased while many people I represent are struggling as a result of the pandemic,” he said.
Cllr Lynne Jones (OWRA, Old Windsor) agreed.
She said: “I don’t believe we should be raising our basic allowance or, therefore, any other allowances on the council.”
In line with this, Cllr Jones proceeded to propose new recommendations for each of the 23 recommendations in the review.
Leader of the council Andrew Johnson (Con, Hurley and Walthams) suggested taking a ‘quick series of votes’ on each of the recommendations Cllr Jones suggested.
He said: “I suspect the majority of these we will probably find that we do agree on, based on the premise we don’t want to see an increase in the basic allowance.”
Councillors agreed unanimously on each of the recommendations put forward by Cllr Jones.
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