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Wokingham Borough Council blackout on race equality review consultation.

For Immediate Release: 16 March 2021

Wokingham Borough Council blackout on race equality review consultation.

On Thursday night Wokingham Conservative led Borough Council Executive and Council Members will meet to discuss and vote to adopt an anaemic Equality Plan. The plan was in part, the reaction to last summer’s Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest.

Following incendiary comments by Cllr John Halsall and Cllr Parry Batth on Facebook and Meriden Television linking the Black Lives Matter movement with the tragic deaths in Forbury Gardens, Reading in 2020.

Cllr John Halsall refused to acknowledge the offence and hurt which he and Cllr Batth have caused to the 13% of Wokingham Borough Council (WBC) residents who are non-white.

This failure of leadership galvanised Wokingham residents of all colour, gender and race to organise and hold the Council to account. This was achieved by bringing pressure to bear on the Council through protest and holding WBC leadership’s feet to the fire, to recognise and respect their residents who remain unseen and voiceless.

As a Council Leader John Halsall agreed to review Wokingham Borough Council’s Equality Policy. This was a powerful example of what residents can do by working together.

The landmark invitation and written agreement between WBC and the BME residents to participate in a cross-Borough consultation and review of WBC Equality policy has not happened. However, the Council members are being encouraged by the Leadership Team to vote on an ill-informed Equality Plan that covers the next 5 years. A plan which is built on a foundation of sand and no WBC Equality Policy framework to hold it together.

A member of the residents alliance, Liz Mayers said, “The Equalities Plan to be adopted by WBC on Thursday night has had little or no input from Wokingham residents or any representation from people within the protected characteristics (as defined by the Equalities Act 2010) it is going to impact“. She went on to say, “The promise made by Cllr John Halsall to work with the residents has not materialised”.

The BME Forum, the only vehicle for Black residents to have an input into the Council decision making process, was suspended by Cllr Parry Batth six months ago. Jeffrey Hinds, founder member of WBC BME Forum said, “It is a disgrace that Wokingham Borough Council so callously discarded such an important gateway to council officials without discussion with the Forum membership”. The equality plan has not been validated by the BME community.

The plan if adopted it will do nothing for equality in Wokingham. This plan is the result of a self-congratulatory tick box exercise with no meaningful external input. Kiran Nar a Wokingham resident said,“ The plan will create the impression that WBC will deliver a more equal, fair and just service to all its residents, when the opposite is true“.

The battle for control of Wokingham Borough Council will be fought on the field of the local elections in May. The result of the election and which party will run the Council could hinge on the small but significant number of non-white voters who are looking at how the Conservative led Council acts to make living in Wokingham fair, equal and just.

Notes for Editor

1. The meeting of WBC Executive will take place by Zoom at 7:00 PM 18 March 2021.

2. The agenda item is 105

3. The concerned residents are a loose collection of Wokingham Council Tax payers with shared interest

4. The concerned residents have submitted a number of questions to the WBC Executives & the Council

5. Contact: Keith Kerr Tel: 07768 620446 email: Aspire (Reading) CIC

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