Commons Gate

Social cohesion

ODPM Committee 27 Jan 2004

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Oral Evidence given by Nick Carter, Editor-in-Chief, Leicester Mercury and Kevin Johnson, Head of Regional Programmes, Carlton Television; Matthew Baggott, Chief Constable/Head of Racism & Diversity, ACPO, Leicester Constabulary/Association of Chief Police Officers; Stella Manzie, Chief Executive and Cllr John Mutton, Leader, Coventry City Council, Darra Singh, Chief Executive and Mark Turner, Chair of the Officers' Steering Group on Community Cohesion, Luton Borough Council; Gareth Daniel, Chief Executive, London Borough of Brent and Joyce Markham, Chief Executive, London Borough of Harrow, West London Alliance.

Q423 Mr. David Clelland: The composition of the ethnic communities is never static, of course, there will be fluctuations from time to time. What sorts of systems do you have in place to monitor these changes, to make sure that they are continually reflecting fairly the changes in their composition?

Mr Carter: We receive information from our own ongoing market research, which obviously we do on a regular basis to determine the make-up of the readership of the newspaper and how long people spend reading it and what they are interested in, that kind of standard market research information. Also, of course, through our contacts with Leicester City Council and other organisations, we are able to keep track of the population shift, and even the make-up within individual parts of the city. We have an arrangement, which is not at all unusual, where individual reporters are assigned to particular patches within the city area, and their task is to get to know the issues on that patch and have contact with organisations and groups and have an understanding of what is going on in those areas. They are supported in that by people like my Community News editor, who is a key worker in our relations with ethnic minority groups, who can provide support and information when necessary, and they know where to come for that. Yes, we can keep on top of what is happening.

Mr Johnson: If I may, Chairman, I want to make a sort of answer to both that and the last question, in a sense. The most important thing we can do, I think, is make sure our workforces represent better the communities to which we are broadcasting. We have got to get our workforces up to the same kind of population balance as we see outside of our own doors. I think that is one way in which the journalism training is added to, because if you have got more people in your newsroom who have come from different backgrounds, different cultures, different races, different religions, then the understanding of everybody in that newsroom and everybody in that organisation increases. Certainly that has been the case with us, where the number of black and particularly Asian journalists in our newsrooms has increased in the last few years, so the understanding of the issues around those communities has increased amongst the newsroom in a wider sphere. I think only by having people from every walk of life and every background in our newsrooms and elsewhere will we begin to both represent the news and make the kinds of programmes that the people out there want to watch. Journalism training is a very big issue, but actually bringing through people from all backgrounds into our employment is the most important issue. Also, I think it is the most difficult issue to deal with, because people from particularly black as well as Asian backgrounds are not coming forward in anywhere like the kinds of numbers that we would wish to see. Therefore, we have to go that one step further to encourage them earlier on in their potential careers, i.e. during the education process. That is going to be the single most important, biggest challenge we will see in any of our organisations, if we get the workforces properly representative.

Q424 Mr. David Clelland: Do you have any examples of the changes you have made as a result of the monitoring that you do?

Mr Carter: The biggest single change we have made over the last five years was to move the newspaper to a position where we said "We will play a more proactive role in the cohesion of our communities and, rather than stand on the edge of the road and comment on what is going on, we will become a player in that." This puts us in a much more complex position, because it obliges us to consider everything that we do, everything that we publish, in that light. We know that what we publish can affect people's perceptions, therefore we have to review everything, and all policy decisions are made on that basis. Clearly, that was because of the growing awareness of the significance of the ethnic minority population of Leicester, its aspirations for itself and for the city. That is the great potential and the great excitement of Leicester, what is going to happen, what kind of a society are we going to produce in the future, will it remain a cause of separate communities, with mixing around the edges, will there be a much greater coming together, and how will our newspaper be able to lead people through that in a constructive way? There are plans for a new cultural quarter in the city. The intention is that will be looked at as buying a sheet of paper into which different social groups, cultural groups, can come together, and who knows what will be produced from that, and I want to make sure that we are in a position to tackle that.

Mr Johnson: One can lay before you all manner of statistics, and we can do that until the cows come home, if you like, but actually the single most important result is the feedback you get, from viewers, from community and business leaders and whether they are prepared to discuss with you, engage with you, co-operate with you, on growing and making other areas of your business. I think, increasingly, in our area, both throughout the whole of the Midlands and I am sure particularly for Nick in Leicester that is the case. Perhaps, and I know this is obviously the work of the Committee, that is not the case elsewhere in the UK, and that is because that active dialogue and that sense of responsibility and trust maybe are not there.

Q425 Mr. David Clelland: You mentioned statistics and you mentioned also the social mix of your workforce. What are the statistics in both cases, in terms of employees from the minority backgrounds?

Mr Carter: In the editorial department of the Leicester Mercury, we have four, I think, minority journalists, out of a staff of just over 100, which obviously is not enough. We suffer from probably an even greater issue, because we are not seen as quite as sexy as television.

Mr Johnson: It is not true, by the way.

Mr Carter: There is a lack of diversity of applicants into all areas of the business and into post-graduate courses, direct-entry courses. That is forcing us, in our search for a greater diversity of applicants, to look at where we recruit from. For the last round of trainees we cast a wider net and had a slightly better diversity in there. We are part of a Pathfinder project, which has recruited some 20 young people from different communities in the city, that is underway now, to work for a year in the (civic ?) eyes and ears project, while they are still at school or at college. I am hoping that will start to demystify the process and hopefully will persuade them that this is an attractive profession to come into.

Mr Johnson: Simply, the answer to your question is that in our region 8.7 per cent of the population is non-white, and we are employing about six per cent of non-white people in our workforce, which, clearly, is not enough, and about seven per cent in programme-making areas, which, to be honest, you can rectify quicker than you can in other areas because of the nature of freelance and contract work. Again, as Nick touched on and I said a few moments ago, the real key here is not recruitment, at the moment. In a sense, although we have to do something about that, it is about going much, much further back and doing something about the kinds of people who are leaving school, leaving college, going to university courses, going on to post-grad. journalism courses. The numbers are not coming through. Indeed, there are studies, about to be commissioned, which will start to look into this, particularly at black males and why they are not going into journalism in the kinds of numbers that they should, if it were done on an economic, kind of proportional basis in the preparation. We have got to do something about that, we have got to do something actively as well, as we are both doing, to encourage more people to come through, and really in those kinds of things with our post-graduate bursaries.

Q441 Mr. David Clelland: Would you outline for the Committee your concerns about the existing partnership arrangements and the changes you would like to see?

Mr Baggott: I think there are two sets of partnerships at the moment. One is the Crime and Disorder Partnership, which is very localised, driven very much by three-year, bottom-up plans, heavy in terms of community consultation, but, to some degree, somewhat restricted by that. For example, if you look at one neighbourhood, they are not going to vote for resource to go into another neighbourhood, so they are somewhat restricted by the way in which the plans are put together. Having said that, they do have, and can have, a great impact at the very local level, but above that there is a need for a Strategic Partnership, which I think looks at things which the Crime and Disorder Partnership cannot do on their own. For example, in Leicestershire, I have brought the seven together and we meet strategically. What I am asking them to do is give up some resource at a higher level to do things like where are our priority neighbourhoods across Leicestershire, where are the dozen geographic areas which, if we get right, will bring enormous benefit in terms of resource cost, sorting out crime and a whole range of issues? We cannot do that at the local level. The second issue is, if you look at some of the main disrupting factors in neighbourhoods, some of that, for example, involves people coming out of prison. At the moment, people coming out of prison are tracked and supervised only if they have served a fairly substantial sentence. The vast majority come out and within weeks will be back into a crime cycle. What we are trying to do is design a system where everybody in Leicestershire is mapped, met on the day they come out of prison by a local police officer, given a package of support, Benefits Agency, primary care, local Jobcentre, all mapped out at the local level but done to a standard which applies across Leicestershire itself. I cannot do that seven ways with seven Crime and Disorder Partnerships. Another issue might be the way that I use my powers to accredit community support officers and others to deliver real benefit, again in neighbourhoods. Again, I cannot negotiate that seven ways, there needs to be consistency. A fourth area might be young people. There are lots of great interventions for young people, but I have 500 persistent offenders in Leicestershire alone, that is actually 500 young people who have grown up to be 500 persistent offenders. If we can put better support for those 500 in place when they are four, five or six years old then we might reap some significant benefit in ten years' time. Again, Crime and Disorder Partnerships are far too small to do that and far too localised, so we need a partnership above that which looks at the really critical interventions. I had hoped to have some potential for Local Strategic Partnerships with the ODPM to do that. I do not think their remit has been clear enough around their need to tackle criminality and reassurance issues in the longer term. I think at the moment they are too economically focused and the policing element of that and the social cohesion element get a little bit lost, I think. There may be some work to do with Local Strategic Partnerships, there may be some work to do around redesigning what a Strategic Partnership might look like, and I see some great potential for that.

This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.

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