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Met ‘trying to gag critics’ by defunding its black officers’ association

The Metropolitan police has been accused of trying to silence a vital voice of criticism on diversity by cutting funding for its association of black officers.

Plans drawn up for the force would see the Metropolitan Black Police Association lose all three of its full-time staff in the name of cost-cutting.

One BPA founder member, Leroy Logan, attacked the proposal as “the biggest threat to the race equality agenda in the Met”.

He said of the plans: “They are taking their only critical friend and gagging them.”

The Met BPA helps officers suffering from discrimination at work, and says it also helps the force’s relations with London’s black communities.

The proposals follow an internal and external review, with the latter conducted by consultants Ernst & Young.

But even supporters accept that the plans risk the “perception the Met is undervaluing underrepresented staff”, documents outlining the proposals say.

The Guardian has learned that under the plans, white senior officers – rather than more junior black officers – could represent the concerns of black officers at high-level meetings.

One document explaining the plans says staff support associations, such as the BPA, “should have an executive sponsor from the senior leadership team … to represent their views, act as a spokesperson and role model, and drive progress.

“The executive sponsor should not necessarily directly identify with the protected characteristic represented by Staff Support Association members in order to increase visibility across the MPS [Metropolitan police service].”

The row presents an unwelcome early challenge for incoming commissioner Cressida Dick, who has previously said she is a champion of the Met’s long-running fight to stamp out prejudice in the ranks.

Sgt Janet Hills, chair of the Met BPA, urged Dick to intervene. “The rationale is flawed,” she said.

“They are trying to silence a critic – we are a voice of difference which does not always follow the party line. The new commissioner should revisit these plans.”

The Met says it is committed to diversity and denies a clampdown on internal criticism. It says its management board approved the needs for reform to bodies like the BPA weeks ago and says it hopes to save money, while doing better on diversity.

It adds that the force is trying to find savings of £400m by 2020. Final details are being hammered out and savings may run into the hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Currently the Met has 19 staff support associations and an umbrella group. The BPA has had a high profile since the force was labelled “institutionally racist” in the 1998 Stephen Lawrence report. The force also has too few ethnic minority officers in its ranks, some of whom complain of discrimination.

The Met funds a full-time chair and two support workers for its BPA.

Instead, an umbrella group covering the 19 current staff associations will have a part-time chair and support worker. The BPA will have a volunteer chair, who will be given a set number of hours a month to do the organisation’s work.

One review for the Met found the force still lacks understanding about diversity nearly two decades after it vowed to learn: “The value of diversity and inclusion is not widely understood within the organisation and the benefits of diversity and inclusion activity to support the organisations strategic aims have not been clearly articulated or communicated.

“There is a lack of training within the organisation to develop employees’ understanding of diversity and inclusion and to promote inclusive practices.”

Race problems in the Met with race continue. In the 2015/16 promotion round, 12 BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) officers were promoted out of 234 officers given higher-status jobs.

The ethnic makeup of the force is still disproportionately white, and the force is thousands of ethnic minority officers short of what it needs if it is to look like the city it serves.

Ch Supt Victor Olisa, head of diversity and inclusion at the Met, confirmed the management board of the force has agreed reforms were needed to the staff support associations in December, following the reviews.

He said negotiations with the BPA and others were continuing: “Diversity and inclusion is invaluable to the Met to provide a police service working towards looking and feeling like London.

“SSA [staff support associations] provide a valuable support and guidance to the Met to deliver a service that is equitable and fair to all Londoners.

“We might see this differently but we are working together to get a solution that meets everybody’s needs.”

The plans were drawn up under outgoing commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, whose last official day as Britain’s most senior police officer is next week. His replacement, Cressida Dick, was previously head of the Met’s diversity directorate in 2001.

Logan, a former Met superintendent who has worked with Dick on race issues, said the slow pace of progress in the Met was frustrating.

“The founder members of the BPA in April 1993, our thoughts were not to be around 20 years later,” he said.

“We thought we would be around for 10 years. But the issues we were addressing then are still as relevant now.

“There will not be a critical independent voice challenging the Met on race and diversity issues, from recruitment, to progression and how we treat the public.”

Olisa denied the intention was to silence a critical voice. He said the Met’s Police Federation and other staff bodies had faced reviews and there was a need to make sure public money was being spent in the most efficient way.

“They can see the commissioner or deputy commissioner when they want,” he said. “How is that silencing their voice?”