THE ONGOING controversy over Wokingham Borough Council’s position over Black Lives Matter was raised in a question from a member of the public.
Kiran Nar did not attend the virtual meeting of the council, held on Thursday, July 23, but the question was asked by a proxy.
He questioned Cllr John Halsall, the leader of the council, over the research he had conducted into Black Lives Matter ahead of making his statements.
“At a recent council meeting you said that equality and diversity were hardwired in WBC’s DNA. You then proceeded to make public statements that have caused outrage to black residents, staff and the public,” they said.
“You have since launched a survey to understand racism more, despite saying equality is being hardwired. Clearly the statements made by you about equality and diversity is contradicted by your offensive comments, is equality genuinely WBC’s DNA.”
In response, Cllr Halsall said that he had been shocked and disgusted by the killing of George Floyd in the United States and reiterated that the council is anti-racist, promotes equality and celebrates diversity, adding: “it is my sincere hope that the world can change for the better as a result of the outcry it has produced”.
He continued: “I completely support the message, principles, and the aims of Black Lives Matter in the UK. I have always been opposed to discrimination in all its forms. I understand the need today to have a clear focus of tackling racism wherever it is found.
“If any comments I have made have been offensive to anyone I apologise unreservedly; that was never my intention. Rather by reaching out, I had hoped to bring residents together.”
Cllr Halsall also pledged that the survey launched by the council would be an “open, listening exercise that acknowledges there will be problems we have not seen and answers we have not thought of.
“The survey is open throughout July and August and I urge everybody to take part,” he added.
The follow-up question wanted to know what resources the council had.
Cllr Halsall said: “We employ about 1,200 people – those are our resources we will apply to be anti-racist and promote equality and diversity”.