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Local race councils in revolt over merger

by Lester Holloway

THE LEADER of Britain's network of local race equality councils launched a blistering attack on government plans to axe the CRE and create a single equalities body.

John Azah
John Azah: wants a race committee for the new single equalities body to be “written in blood”

John Azah, chair of the British Federation of Race Equality Councils (BFOREC), has joined anti-racist campaigners in demanding that a statutory race committee be included in the new super-equalities commission.

His salvo comes ahead of a crunch meeting between Britain's 90 locally-based racial equality councils (REC) and the governments' equalities minister Meg Munn on 23rd February.

Ms Munn angered race campaigners last month who accused the minister of attempting “divide and rule tactics” by claiming, in a Commons debate, that BFOREC supported the governments' plans for a new Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR).

Today Mr Azah publicly denied this leading some activists to question whether Ms Munn had misrepresented BFORECs position in order to create the impression that not all Black groups were opposed to the governments plans.


In a meeting with Simon Woolley, head of Operation Black Vote, Mr Azah said: “We will not support any committee unless it is statutory. We want this committee written in blood.”

Meg Munn
Meg Munn: told MPs BFOREC supported her equalities merger plans. They don't.

The 1990 Trust, which carried out two extensive countrywide consultations with Black communities, accused Ms Munn of ignoring the results.

The report Our Rights Our Future showed unanimous support for CEHR statutory race committee; a minimum level of race commissioners on the board; and ring-fenced funding to ensure no regression from the £20m annual budget of the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE).

In a crucial Commons debate on the Equalities Bill Ms Munn failed to specifically mention the 'Our Rights Our Future' consultation with 400 BME organisations representing hundreds of thousands of Black people, but she did make three references to BFOREC.

She told MPs: 'Representatives [of BFOREC] told me they were reassured by our plans. They are doing important work and have made a commitment to work with us as we move towards the establishment of the commission for equality and human rights.'


BFOREC chair Mr Azah told Blink that was not the case, and that “communities have been played against each other.”  'We have a lot of concerns about the lack of a race equality committee and BME commissioner, when there are those provisions for disabilities.

Our Rights Our Future: The CEHR and Black Communities

'If Meg Munn has said in parliament that BFOREC is supporting the setting up of CEHR, that's a misrepresentation of my position.

'My position is very clear. I don't want the CRE to be shut down in the name of creating a Commission for Equality and Human Rights because I don't feel that that organisation is able to deliver a committment to race equality.'

Mr Woolley praised the stance taken by Mr Azah. 'What's encouraging about John Azah's comments is that he also stated that the only way that BME communities can move forward on this is by demonstrating a united front.

'I welcome this because he has demonstrated that he is resolute and united approach in terms of where we stand on this issue.'


In separate developments Ms Munn has said, in a written response to a question by Keith Vaz MP, that have “made a clear commitment to urgently progress work to identify how race equality work will be undertaken in the new Commission.”

She added: “We welcome the opportunity to engage further with the BME communities on this important agenda and, further to these commitments, I have agreed to meet with 1990 Trust, Operation Black Vote, the CRE and the Greater London authority.”

Earlier this week 60 Black leaders reaffirmed their opposition to plans to merge the subjects of gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, race, religion and human rights together.

Diane Abbott MP told the summit meeting: “History teaches us that to merge equalities strands in this way is problematic for each strand, but is particularly problematic for race. What is at stake here is all the gains we, as people of colour, have made over the last 50 years.'

The summit gave its unanimous backing to the possibility of a legal challenge against the government following Ms Munn's rejection of amendments in the Commons and Lords calling for a race committee and BME commissioners despite the government awarding disabilities these concessions.

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