Mr Penn told LGC this week the council was ahead of the timescale it set itself to tackle race relations problems identified in a critical report by consultant John Carr, published in February. But the council has not yet witnessed a drop in the number of applications to industrial tribunals by staff alleging racial discrimination.
'My own view is that until we have finished the process and staff can see the council really intends to tackle the problem there will still be the use of external processes like industrial tribunals' Mr Penn said. 'We have got to convince them our internal processes are credible'. He commissioned the Carr study into the handling of complaints of discrimination after the council suffered its fifth defeat in an industrial tribunal in six years.
Between 1986 and 1992 council employees lodged 66 applications of which 63 were race related. Of the total number of cases 25 were initiated in 1992. The Carr report made 25 recommendations for changing internal personnel and legal procedures, improving communication and documentation, and strengthening equal opportunities policy.
The council has brought in a procedure to ensure cases only proceed to court where all reasonable attempts to settle have failed, where it is in the council's corporate interest and where it has a reasonable chance of success. Another recommendation was an independent external element in its grievance procedure in race related cases which the working group is looking into.