Submitted 18 Mar 2014 10:34am
in External News
© Operation Black Vote 2010
When the news came through a few weeks ago that head of Britain’s foremost Black think tank Rob Berkeley of the Runnymede Trust had suddenly walked away from the organisation he propelled into prominence, citing that he was ‘at the end of his tether’ alarm bells rang throughout the sector and beyond.
Almost single-handedly, Berkeley helped set the standard for Black-led socio-economic research. Although fiercely political, the organisation remained party-neutral and thus gained much respect from institutions and political parties seeking to gain an insight into Black and minority ethnic communities.
So what brought Berkeley to the end of his tether? In short, lack of financial support, which has been the same curse that has witnessed too many BME voluntary sector organisations disappear in the last three years, including the other BME leading think tank The 1990 Trust; The Windsor Fellowship – which nurtured thousands of young BME young people to find their way in the competitive job market; The Afiya Trust, the National Association Against Racism, and the 50-60 race equality councils, and many others. All gone. No longer able to ensure our society tackles the persistent race inequalities that hold so much talent back.
Rob Berkeley, like many heads of organisations, struggled to set an agenda that would effectively help our institutions understand the dynamics that discriminate. Instead he and others have been forced to chase diminishing funding streams, which at times have little to do with their core activities. If you are lucky to be awarded a grant or Government contract, not only are you moving away from your priorities, and possibly even your field of work, but worse still to win the contract you’ve probably promised much more than you could ever deliver .
The result is exhaustion, burnout, and in cases such as the Windsor Fellowship accusations of financial mismanagement and ultimately organisational implosion.
Rob Berkeley had come to the conclusion that, as much as he loved the Runnymede Trust and was passionate about tackling race inequality, his sanity and physical well-being were all under threat if he didn’t put himself first.
For talented people like Dr Berkeley he’ll be back in gameful employment before the summer’s out. Their gain will be our loss. More worrying, however, is the slow but sure decimation of the Black voluntary sector at a time when race inequality in some areas is back to where we were in the 1980’s. Look no further: Black youth unemployment which in some areas is more than 50%; levels of police ‘Stop and Search’; senior BME civil servants; the lack of BME FTSE board members and the disproportionality of criminalisation of young Black men and women. The list goes on and on. The gap is widening not closing.
The final years of the last Government and this present coalition Government have shockingly failed to put tackling race inequality on the political agenda. With tackling racism off the political agenda there’s no policy directive to support organisations which help change the lives of BME individuals and society in general.
Berkeley’s departure should be a warning to those who think that racism in this country has miraculously disappeared. It hasn’t. What is occurring is those organisations and individuals within them that challenged race inequality are becoming frighteningly scarce.
Unless we deal with this now, we’ll be storing up huge problems for the future.