Support officer row: The hard to hear argument
THERE was a difference of opinion about yesterday’s post regarding the loss of popular support officers at the Town Hall. Some tried to tell me ‘no story here’. Others were adamant that the issue has caused a rift among councillors.
To recap, support officers helping councillors complete their neighbourhood casework were told to reapply for their jobs in a shake-up of the roles. In the process, there was some ‘upskilling’ – council jargon which means that the roles were upgraded, putting the positions out of reach of a couple of people at least who have served the council well for many years.
There is still a feeling among some that good people have been mistakenly let go in the shake-up. The concern is revealed in leaked replies to Labour group whip Mike Katz’s email update, as published yesterday. Labour backbenchers are clearly distressed. One asks for a “special meeting asap or a major agenda item at the next group meeting. In the meantime we should let the present support staff continue in their present position”. Another wrote back to say they are “sad and shocked”, while another reply added: “Nobody has discussed with me at any time that the review would mean loss of staff. I would never have been part of that… This must be a terrible blow before Christmas to them and their families.”
But the response that must have stood out most to the group was sent by Kilburn councillor Maryam Eslamdoust.
She wrote: “The decision to up-spec and up-salary the roles seems to have come from nowhere and no recognition seems to have been given to the experience, relationships and organisational familiarity of existing officers, all of which are essentially especially to us first time councillors. This process appears to have completely defeated the purpose of backbenchers wanting more support, instead removing the elements of existing support which we found most useful.”
She went on: “The very worrying point I would most like to express however is that, in moving these roles up the scale, it appears to have directly led to three highly respected ethnic minority women losing their jobs. Camden has a diverse workforce at the lower levels but in recent years has continually failed to reflect this diversity at the upper levels. We are all aware of the recent discrimination findings against Camden in the Employment Tribunal.”
And added: “I know that the answer will come back that fair and transparent procedures will have been followed but I believe we must be judged by our results in how we treat ethnic minority staff, not just a box ticking exercise to illustrate our equality credentials.
“I realise that the nature of what I say in this email is serious and not easy to hear. However, I feel I would be letting down my ethnic minority constituents and the council’s ethnic minority officers if I did not express the point.”
The council point out at this stage that member support posts were awarded to ethnic minority candidates after the review. It also clarifies that there is no reduction in the number of officers employed.