Public Services Management: Poor relations in race for government cash: National spending cuts will hit local services to ethnic minority communities, says Paul Gosling

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ETHNIC minorities are among the biggest losers from the Chancellor's Autumn Statement spending clampdown. Soon after the Statement it emerged that the Urban Programme, which funds many training programmes and support centres for ethnic minority communities, would be run down.

A few days later it was disclosed that City Challenge, which finances regeneration in the areas where large numbers of black and Asian people live, is to be suspended. Later still, it was announced that Home Office grants to councils to assist people from the New Commonwealth, the so-called Section 11 money, is to be phased out.

At present, 75 per cent of the costs of approved workers under Section 11 are funded by the Home Office. From 1994/95 this will be reduced to 57 per cent, and the year after it will be 50 per cent, with no commitment as to what will happen after that. Currently, 10,000 jobs are funded through it, mostly in teaching, others in social services, housing and employment training.

Sarah Palmer, of the Local Authorities Race Relations Information Exchange, predicts that there will be a significant reduction in services for ethnic minority communities. 'Lots of local authorities will have to pull out of Section 11 commitments. A lot are talking of redundancies. Some couldn't even get their 25 per cent together this year.'

Race relations workers see the rundown of the three programmes as linked, indicating changed government priorities in the current economic climate. Many expect the three schemes to be rolled together, to be replaced in 1996 by a new competitive bidding system based on City Challenge. Under this hypothesis, only the most enterprising councils would receive any government grant for urban renewal or race relations.

Section 11 funding has always been controversial, even when introduced in 1966. Between 80 and 90 per cent of the grants have been spent on teacher posts, but it is well known that until the control procedures were tightened up in 1990 there was widespread misuse of the money. Many teachers employed using Section 11 grants were unaware of the source of the funding, and were not advised that their job remits should have concentrated on teaching and supporting English as a second language.

Andrew Dorn, of the Commission for Racial Equality, said: 'The effectiveness of Section 11 was a major concern. In many cases job descriptions were not established. It came about when local authorities said that having so-called 'immigrant communities' was a drain, and they wanted compensation payments, but no research went into needs. Teachers didn't know they were Section 11; for example Ilea (the Inner London Education Authority) at one point couldn't identify who they were employing with the grants.'

Eventually, Section 11 was used more positively, especially when the criteria were tightened again last year, and is now recognised as providing improved teaching standards for ethnic minority children. Tower Hamlets in east London is the biggest recipient authority for Section 11 money, given over pounds 6.5m this year.

A council spokeswoman said: 'Section 11 is very important in raising English language skills. We will potentially lose our support staff now. The Government on the one hand is publishing results, but on the other hand is taking away the resources which are the means to make improvements. Our children have a higher than average achievement by the time they leave school, but you need more teachers per class to teach English as a second language.'

Khurshid Ahmed, secretary of the National Association of Race Equality Advisers and Head of Birmingham's Race Unit, said that Section 11 had been important in a range of operations, such as economic development, including black business advisers, leisure and housing, and in the voluntary sector.

'It will have a devastating effect. Birmingham is being asked to find an extra pounds 2m at a time when it has lost pounds 35m from the Revenue Support Grant. It is a recipe for disaster that cuts are falling on the black community, at a time when there is a rising tide of racism and fascism across Europe. These cuts are devastating, and will destroy the good work done to date.'

It is not merely the service provision which affects the ethnic minorities, but jobs as well. Andrew Dorn said: 'There has been a belief that if you took away Section 11 teachers there would be no black teachers left.' Khurshid Ahmed added: 'Often Section 11 was the only way for black people to get work in local authorities, and even then only jobs that were marginalised.' Both believe that the result is that ethnic minorities will form a high proportion of the redundancies councils will make in the coming months.

Section 11 money is only available now for direct service provision, but previously it enabled some councils to improve their race relations policies by funding research and multi-cultural advisers.

Radical voices within the ethnic minorities have complained that Section 11 (and Urban Programme) funding, by being special sums outside of the mainstream system, is essentially racist, and marginalising the needs of black and Asian people. They say that creating a separate financial system to provide for ethnic minorities has allowed core budgets to ignore their needs.

Richard Seager, a consultant who has looked at Section 11 in depth, believes that it was the early 1980s riots that did most to increase services for the ethnic minorities. 'Section 11 has not had a positive or negative effect, what has been provided has been more through local action. Liverpool and Brixton '81 had more effects. A lot of people have argued that Section 11 meant a racist view, that ethnic minority people are inadequate, that they suffer from a problem with languages.'

The Race Equality Policy Group, including Mr Seager, would prefer to see a new power to spend given to local authorities, enabling them to spend both capital and revenue money on any anti- racist or race equality provision. However, within the current cash constraints any call for extra spending may be considered unrealistic.

Many councils believe that, apart from education, it is possible to integrate service provision more effectively for ethnic minorities within core operations. It is argued that effective customer care policies, which target each community recognising variations in language, family size, diet and sense of isolation, for example, are more cost-

effective than the use of specialist race or equal opportunity advisers.

Race relations are fundamental to the operations of the London Borough of Haringey, where more than half of households are headed by someone born outside the UK. Fauzia Saeed, Haringey's Head of Equalities, said that cash shortages meant that ensuring equality of service provision now had to be the responsibility of the service departments themselves. 'We have said that race and women's equality advisers were a developmental stage, a process. They were spoon-feeding managers. In an ideal world we would still have these people, but we're not in an ideal world. We're not in a period of luxury, we need to give the managers this responsibility. We are calling this the 'mainstreaming' of the responsibility.

'We train the managers, and provide performance indicators for equality so they can't get out of it. Like every authority we are trying to put into practice service quality guarantees, which we discuss with users, and make sure the communities know about it. There is a public complaints procedure, incorporating racial harassment, which was previously a separate procedure, produced in all the languages.'

Haringey is committed to monitoring service use as a means of assessing the effectiveness of service delivery. Therefore, all parents whose children use play centres are asked their ethnic origin, and the council commits itself to ensuring that service provision, such as meals, reflects that cultural spread. The council can also determine whether particular communities are in practice excluded from using services, and determine what action should be taken in response.

Many members of the ethnic minorities will be angry as they lose services that were dedicated to them. The cuts may at least have the effect of incorporating provision for ethnic minorities into the mainstream of council services, rather than allowing them to be an 'add-on' sop, which allowed departments to exclude multiracial needs from their core service provision.