Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)
MR DANIEL SILVERSTONE, MS LIESL CENTENERA, MR DHARMENDRA KANANI, MR MICK CONBOY, MS KATHLEEN BOLT AND MS LUCY CHAPMAN
WEDNESDAY 20 MARCH 2002
40. You have said earlier that the preparation work is most important. I have experience in two parts of my constituency. In Pollockshaws we involved social workers, local government, the police, all the departments, and we were prepared and did not have any problem. On the other side, in an area where people have just landed, there was great hostility. Will you learn the lesson of what happened in Glasgow and make sure that other councils which are accepting refugees are aware of these problems?
(Mr Kanani) Yes.
41. Mr Kanani, your memorandum speaks of transforming the CRE in Scotland into a modern fit-for-purpose organisation. Perhaps you could clarify one point, first of all. You talk about your relationship with individual quality councils and the need to introduce core standards. Perhaps you can confirm whether the same core standards apply to your own office in Edinburgh? Also, how do you propose to transform your organisation to meet modern challenges? Have you had any opposition to your modernisation strategies?
(Mr Kanani) I will take each in turn and then bring in my colleague, Daniel, because it is not just a modernising question but a corporate one of the internal processes within the organisation. In terms of what it means to transform the organisation, yes, issues about quality standards and performance apply to us in the organisation. What you will hear from my colleague, Daniel, is that we have entered into a major best value review of all our work, particularly on the central support services and headquarters services. Daniel can speak about that. In terms of a quality assurance framework, that is being delivered for us as an experience head of the RECs. In terms of what we mean by a fit-for-purpose organisation, we want to ensure that the mandate that has been given to us through the Race Relation Act is delivered in all that we do, in terms of our capacity as individuals delivering a service, but in the way in which we manage staff and in our relationships with external bodies and also, quite importantly, in terms of what we fund. Under section 44 of the Race Relations Act we have the possibility of funding local race equality work, that which eliminates bad race relations and promotes equality of opportunity. We want to ensure that what we fund also takes account of the quality-assured approach but is also aligned with a new context, which I have described as the Race Relations Amendment Act and what is required of organisations, both externally and ourselves.
(Mr Silverstone) My principal focus in my job as Chief Executive, as I have already said, is to turn the organisation into quite a different sort of body that is fit for purpose to deliver the new legislation. As Dharmendra has said, we commissioned in the summer the best value review. This was very much for local government: the principle for challenging review; asking questions about why we do a whole range of things at all; should we be doing them in future; are we currently, both in terms of the way we do business and the way we are structured, well placed to deliver on our new challenges? I should say, in tandem with this, and this quite an important step for the CRE, we began the business this year with 163 targets. I am yet to meet any CRE member of staff who can describe more than ten of them to me. We have sloped those down to four, which I would like quickly to describe to you. Those are going to last for the next three years. We have moved from 165 organisations to four target organisations. The four targets are: number one, to roll out the new legislation, particularly the public duty; number two, to reconnect with all communities, which is a huge landscape for us; number three, to refresh our relationships with the private sector; and number four, to modernise the CRE. Essentially there are three service targets and the review is designed to produce an organisation that can deliver those. Our Commission received a report from me last week, agreed the principles of it and has agreed the top tier structure within it. I hope to be in a position to advertise the top posts within the next few weeks and to deliver that structure by September or October. This will have profound effects for the regions and nations as well because one of the outcomes of the review is essentially to re-emphasise. One of the things we have got to get a lot smarter at is establishing and delivering services to a very high standard. This really comes back to your very challenging point, which I certainly take full account of: will these challenges also apply to ourselves? In my opinion, they have to. We will have very little credibility as a CRE if we are not taking the same walk as all the 5,000 bodies in the public sector are now required to walk. We have to be an exemplar of race equality and equality generally within our organisation. We also have to be an exemplar over the next three years. The Chairman's vision is that we will become, within three years, a body with the same standards and performance levels as a colleague body or in that order. We have a long way to go. It is a major re-tooling job in terms of the staff, but I do want to take this opportunity of confirming that we cannot expect the rest of the country to meet standards that we do not ourselves meet or ourselves practise. I can assure you that we will have a challenging race equality scheme for the CRE in position by November 30th that will set those standards for us. In terms of the RECs, as Dharmendra has indicatedand I have done a bit of background work on funding, and my previous job was as head of a large funder in Londonwe have a 25 year partnership with RECs as quite a big funder with modest means. I think we have had a single relationship with RECs for a quarter of a century, so no one can accuse us, I think, of cutting money or doing things very quickly. The next year is going to be the year of intensive consultation with our REC partners about the challenging agenda that we have described and discussed here today. What I hope, and the early indications are from discussions that certainly I have had at a national level with them, is for an environment in which almost all of them want to play a much more active part in the future. The year about to start we see as a transitional year. All the RECs will be getting exactly the same amount of money from us as they had before, despite some of the things you may have heard. But, from the year after, we will certainly be wanting to fund in different ways. We want to see much clearer pay-back in terms of the level and quality of services, the impact in the sorts of areas we have discussed already, that RECs are indeed able to make. One of the great advantages the CRE has is its ability to engage. I am regularly told by chief executives of colleague bodies, and other bodies too, that they are deeply envious of the CRE's capacity to engage at ground level with over 90 organisations currently called RECs. This is not an inheritance that we will lightly waive. We do need to improve it as well.
42. Can I follow that up? Have you consulted with service users and your people who use the CRE offices and services about this consultation process? Would that be integral to this assessment?
(Mr Kanani) There are not two different approaches but, if I may say so, there is an approach which has been developed in Scotland by the Commission which has dumped us into a broader modernising approach, as described by Daniel. In terms of the modernising process with the CRE in Scotland, there has been a broad-ranging consultation with all players: service users, voluntary sector organisations, local authorities and the private sector. So the whole range of sectors across Scotland has been involved to varying degrees and at varying levels in the change that may take place, but also looking at what race equality work should look like, how it should be delivered and how we should be delivering it. There has been a broad-ranging engagement across the board. At the moment, we are just compiling a report. I have a summary report of the consultation on the back of the ACONA<fu5> report that was completed last year, which was about modernising the Racial Equality Councils. We have sent out 1500 questionnaires across Scotland to all agencies and service groups, et cetera, asking: what do you think about some of these principles that are being recommended as a result of the initiative that has been taken?
<fo5> ACONA Consultancy.
43. I have one short further question on the issue of case law. You referred to the fact that you dealt with 87 full inquiries last year, yet the racial equality councils in Scotland have dealt with more inquiries in terms of numbers. Given the relatively low number of cases which are going to court, I would imagine that the body of case law in Scotland is actually quite small. Would that be the case or do you see any way within the modernisation strategy in which you would want to look at that particular aspect?
(Ms Bolt) The body of case law in terms of race discrimination is low in Scotland with a relatively few number of cases that have got through tribunals, sheriff courts and appeal stages within Scotland. That is certainly something that I would like to develop. What we have got to do in some senses is to build expertise in this area, recognising that we have expertise within the RECs and within the Commission, but that is perhaps not being shared as widely as it could have been in the past in terms of knowledge and transfer of expertise. One of the big jobs that faces me is to do that. There are two ways to do that. We want to build capacity and transfer expertise within the advice-giving sector across Scotland; also, we want to provide wide geographic coverage and availability of quality-assured advice to individuals presenting with discrimination claims. We know that people presenting with discrimination claims often will go to an advice agency or to other areas of social welfare. They will not necessary step into a solicitor's office, but they approach CAB or an IOC about it. What we want is to give them the skills across the range of advice agencies to be able to identify cases and take them forward as far as they can and to refer them on appropriately at the end of that process. The other job is to engage with the legal profession as a whole in order to increase the expertise among solicitors and advocates in Scotland because, at the end of the day, if we have important cases that we want to take through to tribunals and courts, then we want to have these people on board to help us. With the two other commissionsbecause we now have legal officers for the three commissions in Scotlandwe are together working with the solicitor profession to have a panel of solicitors that we can instruct so that we will have the necessary expertise to be able to deal with cases. They will liaise with us and participate in training and so on and have the enthusiasm to take the cases. We will do the same with advocates as well. Basically there is a very small pool of people with that expertise. That is something we definitely want to develop.
(Mr Kanani) This cuts at the heart of the modernising agenda for us. This is about the quality of the legal information, advice and representation at a very local level. One of the issues for us at the Commission and at the heart of the modernising agenda is that, if you were to ask us what is happening across Scotland in terms of numbers of race discrimination cases, the kinds of inquiries that are coming through and the issues at local level, we cannot tell you that with any reliability or confidence because at a local level we do not have sufficiently sophisticated systems within the organisation that we fund to be able to track that kind of information. The initial diagnosis at a local level is not happening effectively. Part of the modernising process is to ensure that we enable that which we fund at a local level to do that effectively. At the moment it is not happening. That is part of the modernising agenda. We do need to have a complete turnaround at local level so that an REC is not dealing with a whole range of cases and issues that are coming through their doors just willy-nilly because no one else is doing it. It is about the expertise transfer but also the initial diagnosis that is effective at the moment. The systems in place at the moment need improvement, and significant improvement, at the local level for that to happen.
44. Going back to the internal assessment and the best value review, within that, would you identify any need for increased funding?
(Mr Silverstone) One of the key elements of the scoping document was an assumption that we would not be getting any more money. So that is within the cash allocation we have had from the Home Office. You may think we were insufficiently adventurous in that respect but that is the principle on which we have done the review and it is certainly the guidance we have had from the Home Office as well.
45. You have mentioned public consultation and other local issues. What has been the response to this public consultation exercise?
(Mr Kanani) It has been broad ranging and obviously it has differed according to individuals and their context. What I mean by that is that obviously, if you take the Racial Equality Councils, there is a group of RECs that feel they do not want to see change and they believe the status quo should remain, quite clearly. There are others that are embracing the modernising agenda within the REC movement but there is no consistency. The exercise has just been concluded and I will make sure that the full report is circulated to yourselves. The key message coming through from the public sector and the voluntary sector is that change is required. An interesting message is coming through to us from the modernising processes that, in terms of locality-based work, there is not the ability to engage effectively at a local level. Some of the issues you yourselves have raised about not knowing what is happening are issues raised by organisations across Scotland. So we need to be able to work in a way and fund in a way that enables that connection to happen. What we are getting back from the responsible bodies is that, yes, change needs to happen; yes, it needs to be locally driven; we need to see more players around the table delivering racial equality work; yes, there is a need to look at the whole arrangement in which racial equality councils historically have been built and to see that changed to take account of legislative change and even changes in boundaries and changes in local government and in other such public bodies. So I think the message is that change is required. The message that is coming through strongly is to build that change in a very pragmatic way and to do that in a very clear way so that we, as an organisation, are clear about the outcomes we are looking for and the kinds of public authorities that might be involved in funding local work.
46. Do you see public views and public perception as very important for the success of any organisation? Do you think there is a need to improve the image of the CRE in the public arena? That looks strange coming from a politician. Politicians are accountable for what they do. Can I ask Lucy Chapman: how do you intend to improve the image of the CRE in Scotland in terms of public opinion?
(Ms Chapman) I think we need to engage at a very local level and with the Executive, with Parliament and also with the press. This is about constantly reinforcing the messages and the work that we are doing. Dharmendra might want to develop that.
(Mr Kanani) I would like to think that we have afairly positive imageand you might say that I wouldof our work in Scotland. If you were to take a measure of the regard in which we are held, we constantly meet around the table with the main players in public policy work. At an early stage we are brought in to the discussion of policy legislation. We are involved in bringing together communities of interest, not just in the public sector but also in the voluntary sector and in communities. We held a very successful conference in Glasgow only in November about dialoguing with ethnic minority women on the issues of gender and race. We had a huge turnout and a lot of community individuals turned up to that. We organised that conference. You can take that as a measure of how we are regarded. We do have a fairly high profile and we are asked for our opinion on matters across the board and at local community level. Yes, we do have the ability to bring people together at various levels, and not just the policy community. So we are very conscious of how we are regarded externally. We ensure that that is done effectively in relation to our remit.
(Mr Silverstone) There are two things, one positive and one less positive. I think, since my brief period with the CRE, I have been really pleasantly surprised by the high access and recognition rates we have within the policy-making environment, both within SW1 here in London and also particularly in Wales and Scotland, particularly I have to say in Scotland. I do want to take the opportunity today to say that one of my jobs is to build the learning from some of the best practice in Scotland into the national body itself. Where I think we have a huge amount to do is in parallel recognition with communities themselves. Many established communities have negative impressions of the CREwhat is it, what it does, what it is there for, who it speaks for. Probably more worrying is that a number of communities, particularly new arrivals, have no recognition of us at all. The third point is that we are too dependent on our own assessments of how well we are doing. I would like to see built incoming back to the earlier questionsome fairly independent and rigorous assessment annually of how well or how badly we are doing, and obviously today is one such example.
47. To pick up an earlier point Kathleen made about case law, I presume that much of the English case law would also be applicable in Scotland, given the nature of the Race Relations Act. Do you see the same type of cases coming up in England as in Scotland? Are there any particular trends between the two? I have a supplementary for Daniel that perhaps I should have asked earlier. In the rest of the United Kingdom are you seeing the same trends in reporting of racial incidents as we are seeing in Scotland or is there any discernable difference?
(Ms Bolt) Obviously within the Employment Tribunal the law is the same throughout the United Kingdom. The Employment Tribunal decisions, when they get to the higher level beyond the Employment Tribunal itself, apply to the United Kingdom. In terms of the Sheriff Court work, there is a distinction and therefore any matters that proceed through the County Court system in England and Wales are of persuasive value at a higher level but not necessary something that our own sheriffs and judges must follow. I think it is partly about our courts having an understanding of the way racial discrimination works and dealing with it. That is one of the reasons why it is important to have more cases proceeding through the tribunals and the courts, because we have very few cases. For example, I think there is a couple of cases that we would go a long way to prove in the Sheriff Court and therefore sheriffs have very limited experience, and probably have never dealt with a race discrimination case. In fact, there is a particular provision within the Act that allows sheriffs to sit with assessors in these cases, which does not happen with anything else. They do not influence the legal decision but they are supposed to bring some background knowledge to the case. It is important for the legal profession to understand the way race discrimination works, to understand the way in which the law works and the way you have to prove the case. There are reasons of public confidence and others matters for seeing cases actually proceed through the courts and reaching positive decisions.
48. Precedents can be cited in Scottish courts?
(Ms Bolt) And precedents as well.
49. Has that provision ever been used?
(Ms Bolt) Yes. I am not sure if it has been used in the cases. There is some difficulty at the moment. I think there have been very few cases. I am actually liaising with the Scottish Courts Administration about the assessors as they exist at present. In one particular case at present actually it is very difficult to access this because it is used so infrequently. There are cases coming through and therefore I think it is important that we re-establish that and then perhaps make the wider profession more aware of these special regulations and tools,so that people are made aware of them.
50. I was struck by a couple of the submissions from the Racial Equality Councils including one from the Central Scotland, which is in my constituency. I thought the one from the Council has positives and negatives. It is not a bad submission. I want to concentrate on the other one from the West of Scotland. A couple of quotes in it really struck me, and I would be interested to get your view. One of them was from the West of Scotland Racial Equality Council<fu6> which takes its mandate from 120 affiliated organisations. I thought the term "takes its mandate" was quite significant. It then goes on to say that the growth of Scottish nationalism now is publicly equated with an exceptionally challenging conflict with anti-racism over the last 30 years and consequently the Racial Equality Council community faces a network of crucial elements in the determination of harmonious community relations in the West of Scotland; it has a range of different functions and areas. Finally, it talks about clients needing, for example, general welfare advice covering health or social work issues, counselling and so forth. These things all lie well outside the remit of the CRE naturally. Organisations like the West of Scotland Racial Equality Council, as it is now, have a long historical record and an excellent record of doing the kinds of things they do. There is quite a big difference. There is a large overlap. Daniel Silverstone has already alluded to and described very clearly the extent to which you are re-engineering the process to make sure that you fulfil your mandate, and clearly the RECs have to do the same. Looking at the submission, which has got its negative points, it suggests, as with all modernisation concepts, that there is an element of reluctance to accept changes that might not necessarily seem to help the RECs in the first instance but ultimately will be delivering practices relating to black and multiethnic communities across Scotland in the medium to long term. Could you just say something about that, if you like, constructive friction?
<fo6> See Ev 40.
Chairman: Before you proceed, could I just mention, for the record, that we had a submission this morning from the REC in Fife. It was too late to include it in the papers. That should be clear on the record.
(Mr Kanani) Change is always difficult and the way in which change is perceived is always dependent upon where you sit along the spectrum of change and whether you feel the change is being done to you. I think that is the situation that we have here. I think it is an important and very interesting issue. You have given quotes from the West of Scotland REC. Striking at the heart of the modernising agenda, I think you have an organisation that has operated effectively and has had community links for a very long time, but perhaps it is not willing or open to working in a way that fits modern circumstances. This is both in terms of the scope of the new voluntary sector that is emerging in Glasgow and the West of Scotland, particularly in the black and multiethnic voluntary sector, and the fact that there has been all this change through the Race Relations Amendment Act, and what that means for public services and the voluntary sector across the board, and also what issues such as best value and community planning will mean at a very local level for public authorities. I think at local level what we fund has to take account of that scenario, that wider framework, and that what we have is what you might call constructive friction about that approach. From our point of view, we need to see racial equality outcomes for individuals in terms of individuals getting a better service, public services being clearer about what they are doing and communities feeling comfortable on the ground. We cannot achieve all of that just through the single funding that we have. We need to ensure that through the process of what we fund, at least, and in our negotiations with others, there is much more of a fit between the new circumstances, the new responsibilities, and what happens on the ground. One of the interesting things that comes through on the ACONA research is that when you actually go deeper into some of the discussion around being representative and having a mandate or organisations feeling that they are speaking for a whole range of communities, that is actually not borne out in terms of what we receive in response to some of the quality assurance audits that we do and the work that I have gone and done personally, in terms of mapping what is happening at a local level and going into the local organisations. I have been to every single Racial Equality Council in the past six months. I have done a health check and I have also worked with directors on programmes on how they might facilitate a different approach to risk quality work, having been a REC director in the past for nearly eight years myself and knowing the situation. It is amazing that people who have been working in the field for over 25 years find it difficult sometimes to appreciate a new circumstance and a new way of working. Only last week, if I may use the anecdote, I spoke to a REC director who wanted me to come across, and I went across, to talk about what modernisation means and what it means at the local level. I was able to go through the steps of what that means. I explained that it does not mean that you take every welfare rights inquiry but you make sure that those who are meant to deal with the welfare rights inquiries do their job effectively. You operate strategically but also work in a more dynamic way around the Race Relations Act. There was a sudden light bulb effect, a sudden recognition, that actually, after working in one way for nearly 25 years, it is really difficult to think out of a box. That is what it is. You have had people working in a particular way in a particular environment, who are very confident about that environment but are not willing to see beyond that and think through more critically as to whether individual needs are being met and whether what they are doing really should be done within a modern context.
51. Could you clarify one more related matter for me? We have had a number of letters on this. I have had a number recently and you have indicated the same thing, as have all Members of Parliament. Would that be the case?
(Mr Kanani) Yes.
52. We get regular communications.
(Mr Kanani) Yes. If I may just answer that question, when we instigated the whole modernising approach, we established a framework to show what this might look like because that would require a step change in the way it happens. We circulated specifications and a briefing note to every single Member of Parliament and MSP in Scotland to give them advance notice. We also issued a press notice on the back of that and said that we would be giving regular reports and information. Once the consultation exercise is completed, again we will circulate the outcome of that exercise to you.
53. I was quite intrigued to hear Mr Silverstone talk about taking best practice down south, whereas we always had some problems up north. Could I say that the West of Scotland Racial Equality Council has made some complaints about the conditions of its own people who are doing very nicely in new offices but they also complain about the lack of sharing of good practice. The Central Scotland Racial Equality Council is complaining of being underfunded, under-resourced and overworked and it goes on to complain about the lack of consultation by CRE Scotland. I wonder perhaps if you could tell me what you think the relationship is with the RECs and has there been reduced funding for them and, if there has, can you tell us why?
(Mr Kanani) I will take those questions rather than asking my colleague to do so. To take consultation to begin with, the consultation exercise began with REC directors, as I mentioned, right from the onset. They met round the table to talk about what change looks like and whether it is necessary and appropriate that work that has been done for the past 25 years should continue in the shape and format. We had what I regard as a loose guy's thinking about what racial equality work should look like. That then developed further to the point where I had a conversation with REC Chairs about racial equality work and what it should look like and whether it should change or not. That led to the forming of the specification to which I referred on modernising local racial equality work, which is subject to competitive tender. That again was sent out to every REC before it went public. So at each stage, even before the modernisation process and formal consultation process began, RECs were at the starting point with us in that discussion. When the consultants, ACONA, were appointed to do the modernising review, the starting point was not even before us. They spoke to REC directors about what they thought their role should be, how it should be developed, what kind of structure there should be, and whether some of the issues they are dealing with should continue. That has been documented. It is also on our website. There are the individual transcripts of those interviews with individual directors, who speak very frankly and candidly about the fact that they actually want to see change happen. That then led on to the development of focus groups which looked at community development, access to legal redress, public policy development and public education. In each of those focus groups REC directors were key participants and they were involved throughout that process. When the ACONA consultation was concluded, REC directors again, at a meeting that I convened, were brought together and the information on the outcome of the review was shared with them and discussed, again in an open an frank manner. There was also discussion on the funding of racial equality work in the future. Now, you make reference to two issues in relation to Central Scotland and other places. Let me just go by my experience over the past two years while being responsible for monitoring and evaluating local race equality work. I have to say that it has not been an exciting process. It has been quite demoralising because, in the way in which we are engaging in monitoring and evaluating work, it is not immediately clear to us from the returns that we get what is actually happening on the ground. We receive returns which say either that work is ongoing or completed but we do not get a richness of information in what is returned. Where some comment might be made with regard to being overburdened or overworked, that is not borne out by our experience of that particular example: let us say, the Central Racial Equality Council. I will share something with you. We have had to suspend funding over a three-year period because of the lack of follow-through on work programme commitments as there has been no tangible rationale for why that is not happening. We have had to engage in that measuring tool activity to see change happen in terms of organisations being clear about what they are doing, how they are doing it and how we want to monitor that work. There is not that immediate clarity at a very local level. Even in this year of this round of assessments, we are finding that the levelling up of experience is not happening to the extent that we would like to see in terms of organisations that we fund being clear about what they are doing. One clear example is the facts and figures around race discrimination cases and racial incident cases. If you will bear with me for a second, in the health check visit that I engaged in, three RECs in particular, one of which has submitted a memorandum that you have before you, had a casework filing system which would leave itself open to liability completely. Let me be specific on that in the sense that there was no casework filing system. Whole families were logged into a single file. There was not a tracking or a monitoring system. I could not say with any confidence the number of race discrimination or racial harassment cases that were being done because the system does not exist at a local level. We did have to engage in fairly challenging conversations and say that, in terms of our role as a public body, in order to be able to account for that, I need to be able to say what is happening at a local level. What I witnessed on the ground was a very poor level of activity and very poor infrastructure to monitor and track casework and other areas. That has obviously been rectified now. We provided support and guidance in respect of that. In answer to your question about work loads and levels, I would say that we have to consider that against the evidence of what we have found in the assessment of work on an annual basis over a period of time. The evidence does not indicate a very smart way of working in delivery and scope of work. I hope I have addressed the issues on work performance in that response. In terms of the offices, yes, we have moved to new offices because our current offices were too small for us. We had to move to new offices, but that has come out of the additional funding we have received from the Home Office, which was about meeting our obligations under the Race Relations Act. That also funded the additional post within the CRE Scotland office. The funding for RECs work has not been affected at all by any of these activities and in fact I put on the record that we are not reducing the level of funding to the racial equality councils in Scotland.
54. I was interested that you mentioned loads and levels, which I did not ask you about. There was something by the West of Scotland Racial Equality Council mentioning that they had threats of a cut in funding.<fu7> That caused a lot of stress and misery to staff, according to their report. Could I ask you something on the funding for RECs in connection with the local authorities? In the website that you mentioned I noticed that your main partner is local government and 27 out of the 32 councils provide varying levels of resource. Not knowing the councils in questions, can you give the reasons why the five councils do not submit any money? Do you know who they are so that I can go and ask them to and get you some money? Perhaps you could say why the local authorities are doing this work with you?
<fo7> See Ev 42.
(Mr Kanani) As Daniel has pointed out, in the relationship with local Racial Equality Councils, the operation of partnership is based historically on a partnership being between local government and the CRE. These have been the two key players in funding local race equality work historically. That is why you have local government as a key player. That has also probably had a lot to do with the fact that previously, under the unamended Race Relations Act, local government had a duty under section 71 to promote racial equality. It was not terribly clear but that has been improved upon. Perhaps that explains where that relationship has come from. In terms of the authorities that are not currently engaged in funding the local race equality work, those are areas where the local Race Equality Council essentially does not exist. In the Borders and the Highlands and Islands we do not have a formal structure. On the back of the modernising process we are rectifying that. Only two weeks ago I held a meeting with chief executives of public authorities in the Highlands and Islands to look at a response to the modernising agenda and to establish a local race equality partnership to deliver racial equality work at a local level. Part of the modernising process is to ensure that it is not just local government that funds at a local level; we want to see many more partners around the table funding local race equality work in different ways.
55. You have mentioned only two councils, Borders and Highland and Islands.
(Mr Kanani) Can I get back to you with the actual details of that?<fu8>
<fo8> Note by witness: The five local authorities are Comhairle nan Eilean Siar; Dumfries and Galloway; Highland (occasional funding to contribute to costs when Grampian REC does casework in the Highlands); Scottish Borders and Shetlands. It is important to note however, that in most cases there is no REC providing services that covers their area of benefit.
56. Could you perhaps say in a sentence something about how you describe your relationship with the Racial Equality Councils in Scotland?
(Mr Kanani) I hope I have covered a lot of that actually. It is one of an effective partnership in so far as it is a joint commitment to delivering race equality work. Where it differs, but not across the board, is in how that is done and how that might be delivered at a very local level. I think the modernising process has, I suppose, unravelled some of that. One of the things that the ACONA research said fairly early on was that there seems to be a disjunction between what the Commission for Racial Equality sees as achieving racial equality and that which is regarded at a local level by directors. It is about making sure we close that gap, as it were, in the relationship. Also, I think it is a relationship that has been bound by history and by particular circumstances; it is a relationship that has been subject to change every six to seven years. In the Eighties it changed dramatically from consisting of church-based organisations to a different structure. In the Eighties and Nineties, we saw the development of huge relations councils turning into racial equality councils. Now what we are seeing is a relationship which is rooted in the new circumstances in which we find ourselves. That requires change and a different way of looking at the world. It will necessarily create the kind of constructive tensions to which Eric Joyce referred.
57. Can I just clarify this? With the CRE helping to fund posts in Racial Equality Councils, is there any proposal to change the pension rights? There is mention in the West of Scotland Racial Equality memorandum of the fact that their pension contributions from the CRE may be under threat. Can you clarify whether there are any proposals to reconsider this for employees?
(Mr Silverstone) This is a national issue, not just a Scottish issue. We have been grappling for the last two or three years, and particularly in the last 18 months, with the accumulated product of an under-funded pension fund, which is also a product of the rather old-fashioned way that we have done the funding historically. The CRE has traditionally funded as a quasi employer, so we fund posts. We contribute a pension and National Insurance and that makes us fairly unique as a major public fund, as I am sure you know. In local government and in many other areas, funders fund outcomes; they fund organisations to deliver things. Most of our funding relationships are with REC posts. The problem emerged during 1999 and crystallised around November 2000, to the extent that we have a £4 million gap in the pension fund. The CRE has continued to meet its obligations to both current CRE staff and to pensioners. In terms of this financial year, that has borne down to the tune of about £93,000 a month. We have had to find the money from elsewhere in the budget to ensure that the pension fund remains buoyant in the balance. As you would expect, we have been in fairly intensive discussions with the Home Office over the last nine months to try and achieve by one of two or three different routes a write-off on this shortfall. I was advised yesterday by a senior Home Office official that they are expecting to provide an answer to us imminently. I certainly hope, as the accounting officer, that we can get this issue off our books early in the new financial year because it is a major diversion from our principal priorities. In terms of next year, all REC chairs and directors have received a letter from us, and they receive regular updates from us. What I describe is well known to RECs. They take particular interest in it, as you would expect. We have commissioners who are on the Board of Trustees as well and they take a particular interest in the issue. We expect to resolve the issue financially next year. We are committed to preserving the rights of existing REC staff in the existing pension fund. We have signalled that RECs will have to make alternative pension arrangements for any new starters that they engage during the course of the next financial year. That is the most up-to-date position I can share with you at the moment.
58. So the RECs would, in effect, be left on their own to provide pensions for their employees? These are small organisations. In effect they are not likely to offer much more than Stakeholder pensions. Does that seem to be a satisfactory position to you?
(Mr Silverstone) The situation that we are in at the moment puts us at the very top end of contributions to pension arrangements for staff we do not actually employ and have never employed. The situation we want to move to is one where, in common with all other voluntary organisations, certainly most of the ones I am aware of, it is the voluntary organisation that has employment responsibilities for its staff. Certainly we are more than open to discussions with RECs, and have been for many months, on alternative pension arrangements and we will want to see those rolling through on a high standard, not a minimum standard. Our principal concern is to use our scarce resources under section 44 to deliver high quality services. A very substantial proportion of our £5 million that we have available for section 44 is tied up in pension and National Insurance at the moment.
59. In your memorandum to us you describe your own contribution to the scrutiny process in the Scottish Parliament, in which you express concerns that "the Executive had not adequately built equality considerations into spending plans" and also you said there was "the lack of a systematic approach to equality considerations across the work of the Parliament". Have you had any response from either the Scottish Executive or the Scottish Parliament in response to the comments that you made about their particular areas of responsibility?
(Mr Kanani) Yes.