Reprieve hopes rise

3rd December 2004 at 00:00
Campaigners are hoping for an 11th-hour victory over a shake-up of community education in Leicester following the collapse of the local authority's ruling coalition.

A minority Labour administration has taken control of Leicester city council. The council was reviewing the service which would have seen widespread redundancies and relocation of key staff. Campaigners want to stop this.

The development could mean the end of a long-running battle between a community association which has raised more than pound;4 million to expand Highfields youth and community centre, which is situated in a deprived part of Leicester.

The association opposes the review and wants Highfields left out of the process so it can keep its plans to run the centre.

With redundancies due to take effect today, the association and Natfhe, the lecturers' union, were hoping for a last-minute reprieve . The Liberal Democrat-Conservative coalition is being replaced by a minority Labour administration.

Matt Follett, spokesman for the Highfields Users Campaign, said: "Our stance remains the same until our concerns are met.

"(The new administration has) said it is prepared to sit down and talk with us and, because of its public support up to now, it would seem that it is prepared to be reasonable."

The Highfields campaign centres around Priya Thamotheram, the centre's manager, who was expected to be made redundant. Mr Thamotheram is seen as a figurehead by protesters who claim that the council has failed to fulfil its promise to allow them to take control of the centre.

The council claims no such promise has been made.

Mr Thamotheram is still at the centre but is now working there as "temporary project manager".

Natfhe failed to get the review challenged in the courts.

The union claimed that the council had failed to carry out an impact assessment to establish how the redundancies would affect ethnic minority staff. The council denies this.

Natfhe asked for the support of the Commission for Racial Equality. The CRE this month told the union it would be taking no action, saying the case was unlikely to succeed.

Russ Escritt, regional official for Natfhe, said: "We wanted to use legislation, introduced after the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, which was supposed to be about making local authorities address the issue of institutional racism.

"What shocks me is that the CRE does not seem to be willing to enforce that law."

Leicester city council has already been forced to delay plans to withdraw funding from voluntary groups after a High Court ruling which said it had failed to consult properly.

Leicester, set to become the first city where white people will be in the minority, has been well-known for good race relations.

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