Equal Opportunities

Progressing the Equal Opportunities agenda was a priority for the Left who gained power in 1984. On some aspects progress had already been made by the previous administration, but there was a lot further to go. Consultations took place with groups oppressed on the basis of race, gender, sexuality and disability, but setting up the committee and staffing structures was by no means simple. This chapter covers the initial steps and the difficulties encountered.
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Differing Opinions on Equal Opportunities
The bitterest battles between the left and right-wings of the Manchester Labour Party were fought over implementing the Equal Opportunities policy. Whilst some of the older right-wing male councillors were simply non-plussed by the Left’s position, others were openly hostile to women and gay men.

There was already in existence a Race Relations Advisory Group chaired by Councillor Sally Shaw, but there was no understanding of the institutional racism and sexism that existed within the Council and society generally at that time (as was the case in the country as a whole). Despite the high numbers of black people in Manchester, there were no black, and very few women, councillors.

Out of the 63 Labour councillors in May 1979, there were only seven women. Four of them[1] were part of the right-wing grouping (8%), and although they were all pretty strong characters in their own way, they were fairly marginalised. There were proportionally more women amongst the left-wing councillors (23%) although this was only three women out of thirteen people on the Left – Frances Done, Val Stevens and Kath Robinson – so there was still work to be done to increase women’s representation on the Council.

But this was fairly typical of other councils in the country. Kath Robinson had made friends with a councillor in Barnsley who was the only woman there and she was apparently completely marginalised by the male councillors.

Despite the work of the Women’s Liberation movement in the early 1970s, the Labour Party still hadn’t come to terms with exactly what equality for women meant. Women were still being expected to make the tea and not speak at meetings. At a Labour Group meeting after Kath Robinson was elected in 1979, she was told by one of the right-wingers (Colin Brierley) – “You should be at home making your husband’s tea”. He was stunned by her reply – “He’s at home making mine”.

By May 1984, the 42 councillors on the Left included 13 women (31%), which was a big improvement, with Nilofar Siddiqi being the first (and only) Asian woman.

Progress with Equal Opportunities Prior to 1984
In most of the Council departments, particularly those with predominantly male manual workforces, sexism was rife. Even in the more middle-class departments such as Architects, there were open displays of pin-ups of semi-naked women in provocative poses (and page three cut-outs from tabloid newspapers). One day the women from the Housing department, led by Sorrel Brookes and joined by the left-wing Labour women councillors, raided the Architects department and pulled them all down in protest.

In the Recreation Department, women employees had a particularly hard time and on one occasion, a female employee found a used condom had been placed on her desk. Even in the Social Services Department, which had a greater proportion of women employees than other departments, sexism was common.

Before the Left took over, the Policy Committee had approved a Code of Practice on Recruitment and Selection in January 1984, which included a policy statement on Equal Opportunities in employment, drawn up by the Personnel Department as a result of national legislation. Also, the Personnel Committee had agreed to a proposal from the Race Relations Advisory Group (subject to consultation with the trade unions) that all vacancies should be advertised externally at the same time as internally. The previous policy had been for vacancies to be advertised internally first, which militated against women and black people being employed at any level other than at first-entry or junior positions.

During the early 1980s the City Party’s Equal Opportunities Working Party had drawn up very detailed and extensive policies on Equal Opportunities and had thought through ways of implementing them. The Equal Opportunities Working Party was one of the most active and hard working groups and it developed a complete strategy for the Council. Val Stevens, Sorrel Brookes and John Shiers were amongst its members.

Immediately after the Council AGM in May 1984, work began to implement the strategy. As the person charged with the task of leading on Equal Opportunities, Val Stevens worked closely with a council officer, Penny Boothman, to set up the new committee and a staffing structure within the Town Hall.

Penny Boothman was chosen to work with Val Stevens on Equal Opportunities (and also with Frances Done on Neighbourhood Services) because she was the most senior woman in the Chief Executive’s Department, and because she shared their values and had some understanding of what the issues were. It was the first time she’d ever worked directly with elected members. Val and Penny drafted the terms of reference for the new Equal Opportunities Committee and started the discussions about the staffing structure and remit of the Equal Opportunities Unit.

Identifying and Consulting with Oppressed Groups
At the Policy Committee on 16th July 1984, the new Equal Opportunities Committee was formally set up and its terms of reference agreed. Val Stevens was formally elected as Chair with Margaret Roff as her deputy. There was a commitment to making the committee as democratic and representative as possible and so big public meetings were held for each of the ‘oppressed’ groups. The aim was to discuss the operation of the Equal Opportunities Committee and the staffing structure of the Equal Opportunities Unit, but also to facilitate the election of community representatives to the committee.

Val Stevens chaired all the meetings and Penny Boothman found them extremely challenging, but also very exciting. She felt that previous Council consultations with communities that she had been involved with (eg for the inner-city programme in the late 70s and early 80s) were pretty pathetic and she wanted to do better. Setting up the women’s meetings was the easiest as there were established networks of women and mechanisms for consulting (see later), although getting good attendance at meetings was not so easy. Black and ethnic minorities were more problematic. It was decided to have separate meetings for the different communities, but they held one for the Asians, one for the African Caribbeans and then ended up with one for ‘the rest of the world’ – in a small committee room in the Town Hall! She admits now that they were very naïve and made lots of mistakes – like arranging meetings in the early evening during Ramadan and not working out how to make contact with young Muslim women.

The first meeting, for the Asian community, was held in the Library Theatre and it was packed. It was a very, very stormy meeting with lots of Muslim men shouting at Val Stevens, and Penny Boothman realised that they’d embarked on something really huge. She found the whole experience absolutely fascinating, but Val was shocked at some of the vitriol hurled at her and at just how much discrimination there was between the disadvantaged groups. According to Sheila Newman, the Labour Group was on a big learning curve, having assumed that all the oppressed groups would work together on a common agenda of eliminating discrimination. The City Party policy was that there should be no ‘hierarchy of disadvantage’, but amongst the different groups, there were arguments along the lines of “my oppression is greater than yours”.

The ethnic minority groups would not accept being included with other oppressed groups and wouldn’t co-operate, so it was eventually agreed that a separate Race Sub-committee would be established. Having accepted that, it was then decided to set up a separate sub-committee for women, one for disabled people and one for gay men and lesbians, although the lesbians were not happy about being included with the gay men, so a separate one had to be set up for them as well.

The disabled activists didn’t want to have a sub-committee because a sub-committee of the Council had to have councillors actually making the decisions (even though there could be co-opted community representatives on it) and they didn’t want to have any non-disabled people representing them, because for years they had suffered from non-disabled people speaking on their behalf. So it was agreed that there would be a disabled people’s ‘steering group’ that would make the actual decisions, and that their decisions would be fed into the formal sub-committee. The sub-committee would have non-disabled people on it, but they wouldn’t making decisions on behalf of others.

Prior to the first meeting for gay men, concerns were expressed by those men who worked for the Council and hadn’t ‘come out’ as gay, that they would be identified and subsequently discriminated against. So Penny (as a council officer) wasn’t allowed to attend their meeting. As there were community meetings being held two or three times a week, Penny was quite glad to have a night off. Their first meeting was held in the Archway pub and around 150 gay men attended. Margaret Roff and Val Stevens explained the Council’s new policy and how they hoped it would work and ten or twelve community representatives were elected to the Gay Men’s Sub-committee[2].

Amongst the Lesbian community there were similar concerns about council officers being identified, but Penny was allowed to attend their first meeting, which was held in Amigos (a Mexican restaurant in the city centre) in a very dark room, in order to protect identities.

Establishing the Committee Structure and Early Changes
At the first meeting of the Equal Opportunities Committee on 1st August 1984, it was formally agreed to establish the sub-committees – one for each area of ‘oppression’ – women, race, gay men, lesbians, and disabled people. The committee also cancelled a course at Margaret Ashton College that had been set up for South Asian girls because it was thought to be an inferior form of education, as well as being a form of segregation, which was unacceptable[3]. A meeting was to be organised with women from the Asian community to discuss alternative provision, but there is no record of the outcome of this meeting (if it was ever held). As mentioned above, one of the failings of the early consultation process was a failure to engage with Asian women.

In the autumn of 1984, a translation service was set up and a working party to monitor the implementation of the Code of Practice on Recruitment and Selection, and, as there was an obvious lack of race awareness amongst chief officers (and councillors), a training programme was established for them.

Another key decision made by the Council in February 1985 was that all companies with Council contracts should have Equal Opportunities policies (as well as fair wages, Health and Safety compliance and trade union recognition, etc.)

Also early in 1985, the Council agreed to celebrate International Women’s Day (on 8th March) by offering small grants to women’s groups in order to put on events celebrating women’s strengths and achievements. This became an annual week-long festival – International Women’s Week (IWW) – with events happening all over the city as well as a big celebration in the Town Hall.

There was a huge amount of energy, commitment and excitement around, but also lots of hostility from the press and some of the Labour right-wing councillors. Paul Murphy and Hugh Barrett were vitriolic on the issue of gay liberation, but Paul now looks back and can’t understand his behaviour then, particularly since a close friend of his at the time was gay. Prior to May 1984, at the time of Norman Morris’ leadership, a grant had been given to the Gay Centre (a local voluntary organisation) and this grant was repeatedly under threat of being cut when Bill Egerton was leader. In November 1984, when it was proposed to increase this grant to £38,000, the Right voted against the increase. There was real hostility towards gay men from some of the Catholic right-wingers, who were also hostile to the women’s equality agenda, and they made some very personalised attacks. One of the Liberal councillors for Levenshulme ward (John Commons) who had ‘come out’ at a Council meeting, was denounced by the local Catholic priest, who urged parishioners not to vote for him.

The press was particularly hostile towards gay equality[4]. Every small grant given to a gay voluntary group (see below) was given huge coverage by the Manchester Evening News and also highlighted in a lurid way by the Tories in their leaflets. There was even a homophobic leaflet produced by an anonymous Labour Party member that was circulated widely. When the commercial developments began around the Canal Street area (later to become known as the Gay Village) the impression given by the press was that the Council was putting money into these ventures, as a further reason to attack the councillors, when in fact they were all private developments[5].

There was a huge range of voluntary and community groups that were given small annual grants (including groups such as scouts and guides, as well as those working with women, ethnic minorities, disabled people, gay men and lesbians) – groups which were just starting out or wanting to expand the services they offered. But, the grants given to gay or lesbian groups attracted so much bad press that, after agreeing a set of eligibility criteria, the actual decision about grant giving was delegated to a council officer and thereafter just reported to Council annually, rather than hitting the press every month, with the Equal Opportunities Committee only dealing with appeals against grant refusals. Even when the Council had to make huge levels of cuts (see chapter 18), these grants were protected as much as possible because, even though they were only small amounts, they made a significant difference to small groups battling against discrimination.

The antagonism towards gay men and lesbians persisted within the Labour Group, as well as amongst some of the black (and other) activists. At the Council meeting in February 1985, Paul Murphy tried to refer back the budget increase for the Lesbian Centre. This move was lost, but only by 12 votes (36 for, 48 against). At the same meeting, Hugh Barrett moved a rejection of a statement on AIDS[6]. This was also lost (same vote).

Even in late 1985, when the Labour Right were generally voting with the Left on most issues, many of them continued to vote against them on gay issues. Also, some continued to direct vitriolic abuse towards individuals in the most unforgivable manner.

Within the Party there were ongoing battles with the management committee of the Hulme Labour Club over their failure to deal with violence against gay men at social events. At one City Party meeting a delegate tried to find some centre ground by describing the differences as due to different generational attitudes to open affection between gay men in public. Unfortunately during his speech he described some of the Hulme management committee as ‘bent’ (a term commonly used in Manchester to mean ‘crooked’) but this was misunderstood to be a comment about gay men and this exacerbated the misunderstandings. A gay rights meeting was due to be held in November 1984, but this was postponed and the City Party and Moss Side CLP ceased using the club for meetings and social events because of the attitude of the management committee members.

As if the hostility from the press and public over race, gender and sexuality wasn’t enough, the new administration was also given a hard time by disabled people. Physical access was the biggest issue for them and because the only access to the Town Hall was via the extension (and a long way round), they boycotted meetings there.

Martin Pagel (later Deputy Leader of the Council) recalls a big conference being held for trade unionists and voluntary organisations, to explain the new direction that the Council would be taking under the new administration. This was probably the July 1984 City Party conference on ‘not setting rate’ (see chapter 2). The conference was picketed by disabled activists because of the Town Hall’s inaccessibility. Martin was a leading member of this protest. Graham Stringer came out of the Conference to talk to them and admitted that they hadn’t considered access and they hadn’t considered how disabled people could be active participants. He asked them to allow the conference to go ahead and gave a commitment that they wouldn’t make the same mistake again. There were differences of view within the disabled activists group – some thought the Council should cancel the conference and start again. Others (including Martin) thought they should accept that it was inevitable that things wouldn’t be right the first time, but they should recognise the commitment if they wanted solidarity, and work with the councillors to get it right in future. Martin said to them, “What have we got to lose by accepting the offer?”

Sheila Newman was the ‘lead Member’ for disabled people and she felt that sometimes the left-wing councillors were treated worse than the right-wingers who had done nothing to promote equality or combat discrimination.

“We seemed to get attacked for everything, when it was us who were attempting to tackle the discrimination. We didn’t expect gratitude, but at least a recognition that we were trying to address the issues”.

But there were some aggressive and rude members of the disabled people’s coalition who were very difficult to deal with and who wore T-shirts saying ‘Piss on Pity’.

Attempting to combat the discrimination faced by disabled people didn’t arouse the same hostility from the right-wing councillors (or the press), although attitudes were generally patronising and there was little understanding of the social and political dimensions to the discrimination they suffered. Tackling the physical access problems was also met with objections because of the costs involved, but despite these concerns about costs, in January 1986, adaptations to the Town Hall bridges (the internal links between the old Town Hall building and the extension) to get rid of the steps and access ramps on the outside of the building, were made a priority in the Capital Programme (by Frances Done, as Chair of the Finance Committee). Also, money was spent on installing Braille signs around the Town Hall and inductive loop systems in committee rooms for use with hearing aids, and employing signers at meetings for deaf people. But until these adaptations had been carried out, the meetings of the Disabled People’s Steering Group were held at the Greater Manchester County Council building, which had no steps on the outside and a modern lift on the inside.

Choosing the representation for the Race Sub-committee was the most problematic of the Equal Opportunities sub-committees. Even though the black activists had won their battle to get a separate sub-committee for race issues, they were totally opposed to it being a sub-committee of the Equal Opportunities Committee. They wanted to have a separate Race Committee with ‘full’ committee status. Even though they were united in this aim, some of the Asian community leaders also objected to being labelled as ‘black’ and always being included with the African Caribbeans. Eventually they came to accept the Left’s definition of ‘black’ as being anyone who was discriminated against on the basis of race.

This insistence on having a ‘full’ Committee for Race was partly because the black activists regarded the race issue as the most important discrimination issue, but also because many of them were as prejudiced against gay people as the white community, and didn’t want to be associated with them. Also, some of the Muslim community leaders were unhappy about women having equal status with the men. In December 1984, it was agreed that the issue about the committee shouldn’t be dealt with hastily, but should be fully discussed at the January City Party meeting, with a summary of arguments for and against being prepared by members of the Equal Opportunities Working Party. This debate lasted for an hour, but at the end of it, the vote on whether to have a separate Race Committee was tied, so it had to remain as a sub-committee of Equal Opportunities. It was agreed, however, that there could be more representation on it from non-councillors.

During the debate, Party members expressed their concerns that the agenda was being set by representatives from a limited range of ethnic minorities, and that further attempts should be made to try to reach other ethnic minorities who had not come forward, and also Asian women who had not engaged with the process. There was also a dilemma as to whether African-Caribbean women should be part of the black group or the women’s group. It was left to them to decide for themselves and eventually they chose the former (despite the sexism within the African Caribbean community at the time).

Some years later, a well-known Caribbean community worker (Kath Locke – after whom the health centre in Moss Side is named) told me that in all our consultations and appointments, we had failed to distinguish between black professionals and ‘professional blacks’. In retrospect we did pay too much attention to the latter group and inadvertently contributed to their status. These ‘professional blacks’ were very quick to label any slip of language as racist and we were so afraid of being thus labelled that we initially failed to tackle poor work or inappropriate behaviour by some black council employees. Also, some of the appointments that were made, despite good intentions, turned out to be unwise.

The discussions about the Race Sub-committee went on through-out 1985, and eventually, in November 1985, Val Stevens reported to the Joint Policy Committee that the working party believed the only way forward was to make the Race Sub-committee a sub-committee of the Policy and Resources Committee, rather than Equal Opportunities Committee. So the matter was taken back to the City Party for it to review its policy. The Race Sub-committee was formally established as a sub-committee of Policy and Resources Committee in December 1985, with its first meeting being in February 1986[7].

Establishing the Women’s Sub-committee was the least problematical of the four. A steering group was established first, chaired by Marilyn Taylor as the ‘lead Member’ on women. Representatives were found by trawling through all the available databases of women’s groups, starting with groups aligned to the Labour party and voluntary groups such as the Pankhurst Centre. The new administration had increased the small grants budget for voluntary activity, so new women’s groups had approached the Council, thus increasing the contacts on the list.

One of the difficulties with the Women’s Steering Group, was that there was a real aversion to electing representatives, which was a common attitude in the women’s movement at the time. So the membership kept changing, although there was a core of women who did attend regularly. At first, the monthly meetings were held in the Town Hall, but then in the Pankhurst Centre and elsewhere, to try and encourage more women to attend, because the Town Hall was felt to be intimidating and male-dominated. Attendance was always a problem and it was very frustrating when women attendees would say the day and time needed to be changed to suit them better and then they didn’t turn up at the newly agreed day and time.

Staffing and Structure of the Equal Opportunities Unit
Compared with all the difficulties around establishing the sub-committees and changing the Council’s decision-making structures, it was thought that setting up the staffing structure within the Council would be far more straightforward. An Equal Opportunities Unit was to be established in order to address the employment practices within the Council and change it from being an organisation dominated by white, middle-class men. However, when it came to the staffing of the Unit, the ‘separatist’ attitude of the black activists influenced the decisions, as they wanted, and got, a separate Race Unit. The two units were established within the Chief Executive’s Department in order to emphasise their central importance.

Manchester was one of the first councils to have specialised officers for each of the ‘oppressions’, which was regarded as being very radical at the time. The Equal Opportunities Unit was modelled on the one set up by the Greater London Council (GLC), which had also produced a charter on gay rights. The Unit consisted of three officers dealing with women’s issues, three for disabled people’s issues, two for lesbians and two for gay men, together with administrative officers.

Most of the appointments for the Equal Opportunities Unit were made around March 1985. The administrative officers were appointed first and, according to Janice Lomas, who was one of the first to be appointed, they were just put in an office with no equipment or supplies and left to get on with setting up the infrastructure, including managing the budget.

The interviews for the Co-ordinator were then begun and Terry Day was appointed[8], although she wasn’t able to take the post until some time later. Vicky Rosin (see later) applied for both the Co-ordinator post and one of the women’s posts and was appointed to one of the latter. Marilyn Taylor had wanted to appoint Vicky as Co-ordinator, but was outvoted by those who wanted Terry Day. A year later, Marilyn said to Val Stevens that she’d changed her view and thought Terry was the right person for the Co-ordinator job after all, but Val said she’d changed her mind as well and thought she wasn’t.

Terry Day was passionately committed to achieving equality for all oppressed groups, but she had no management experience and adopted an extremely confrontational management style which aroused enormous hostility amongst officers (at all levels, including her own staff) and councillors.

The Race Unit was set up with 12 staff and headed by Keith Burrell, who was more prepared to work within the system than Terry Day. But, as very little progress was made initially on the issue of Race Equality, he was considered by many councillors to be fairly ineffective.

Within each department, an Equal Opportunities Working Party was set up, chaired by the chair of the employing committee to give it status, with all sections being encouraged to send representatives in order to help implement the policies at the grassroots of the Council organisation. This method of working was very difficult to handle for many of the senior managers.

Each service committee also had an Equal Opportunities Working Party to monitor progress on staffing changes within each department, and the implementation of the Recruitment and Selection policy, which was previously unfair even to white men. In 1988, as the only female member of the Highways Committee, I was made the Chair of its Equal Opportunities Working Party, meeting regularly with the City Engineer, Sinclair McLeod, and his Deputy, Gordon Daintree. Even four years after the change in administration, these two were perplexed by it all and couldn’t see how female equality could possible apply to the City Engineer’s Department, because of the physical strength required for some of the jobs (eg paving and roadworks).

The Importance of Childcare
Early on in the new administration, the Women’s Steering Group considered the issue of how to get more women elected as councillors and how to increase the number of women employed by the Council. This led to considering women’s childcare needs and the lack of childcare provision within the Town Hall.

A crèche had been opened in July 1984 in what had been the ladies toilets on the ground floor – one of the few victories of the Left prior to May 1984 (see chapter 1) – but this was totally inadequate to meet the real needs. The lack of good quality childcare generally within the city, and the importance of this provision if women were to be encouraged to play a greater role in the workplace outside the Council, as well as within it, led to a commitment in the 1984 Manifesto to expanding day nursery places (see below) and so a small working party was set up – chaired by Frances Done – to make progress on the issue.

The 1984 Manifesto section headed ‘Under Fives’ stated:

“Pre-school provision is essential support for all parents and children and our aim is a comprehensive and co-ordinated range of nursery facilities to match the requirements of all Manchester households. This includes urgent commitment to:

  • expanding day nursery places to meet full need,
  • increasing the educational element in day nurseries,
  • extending and improving nursery school provision for 2 – 5 year olds,
  • examining ways of providing for the whole working day, all the year round, in consultation with the appropriate trade unions.”

The idea of bringing together Social Services’ day nurseries and Education’s nursery schools into a unified service, and creating purpose built children’s centres, gradually developed and the working party became known as the Children’s Centres Working Party.

There was also recognition of the importance of play in children’s lives and strong support for adventure playgrounds. There was no coherence, in policies or staffing, in the out-of-school provision for children. The Recreation Department had responsibility for play-grounds in parks, the Education Department had responsibility for youth work, and the Chief Executive’s Department was responsible for administering grants for, and evaluating the quality of, after-school clubs and voluntary play and youth work schemes (operating mostly in school holidays). In order to assert some coherence and consistency in provision, councillors from the three responsible committees set up a group called the Joint Play Working Party[9], chaired by Richard Leese.

A small Under Fives Unit was set up and Roger Jones (referred to in chapter 4) was seconded from his job in the Education Department to be the co-ordinator, with two council officers to support him – one full-time and one part-time. There was a lot of discussion about the department within which the Unit should be located – Recreation, Education, Social Services or the Chief Executives Department? Frances Done decided early on that the children’s centres shouldn’t be included within the Social Services Department because their day nurseries had a negative image as places for people who had harmed their children. Eventually it was agreed to locate the Unit within the Education Department, although there had been some hostility from those involved in ‘play’ work about being included within the Education Department – formal education being seen as being the antithesis of play.

Working parties had been set up by the new administration in order to circumvent the slow-moving bureaucracy of Council committees, but this way of working – having Council officers and councillors working together as equal partners – led to some interesting changes in attitudes of local government officers. Frances has a clear memory of a Children’s Centre Working Party meeting involving senior officers and architects (all of whom were male) to which childcare workers had been invited (including Kate Kavanagh as the NUPE representative). These workers had a lot of ideas to contribute, which initially nonplussed the officers who were not used to listening to staff at lower levels in the Council hierarchy, or to women.

The Children’s Centres Working Party was re-named the Under-Fives Working Party and an Under Fives Sub-committee of the Education Committee was established and chaired by Richard Leese. In addition to being a councillor, Richard Leese was the main carer for his and his wife’s children and was keenly aware of the scarcity of good quality provision for young children. He had been a member of the working party since its inception as well as chairing the Joint Play Working Party, and in May 1986 was the Chair of the Education Committee (see chapter 10) as well as being a key member of the Finance Committee.

There were also a lot of trade union negotiations around the appropriate staffing structure for the children’s centres and the grades and qualifications of the workers within them, but with his NALGO background, Roger Jones was good at steering through those negotiations.

The first one was to be for council workers and be based in the Town Hall – to be called the St Peter’s Centre. It had been decided to make it into a children’s centre, rather than a workplace nursery, because the Tory government at the time taxed workplace nursery places, which would have made the latter prohibitively expensive. But, in order to legitimise it as a children’s centre, it had to provide places for parents other than council workers, so a catchment area was drawn up around the Town Hall. Vicky Rosin, one of the women’s officers in the Equal Opportunities Unit, started with a survey of the workforce – finding out what the childcare requirements of the existing workforce were – and considering what demand there might be from businesses in the city centre. There were further difficulties around the St Peter’s Centre because the Town Hall, as a listed building, had limited possibilities for adaptations to create space for a play area (see chapter 17). There were also difficult issues to be addressed around Social Services day-care regulations and getting enough revenue to meet all the requirements. All of these difficulties were eventually overcome by a combination of persistence and determination from the leading politicians and hard work by committed council workers.

The philosophy that was developed was that of ‘open access – childcare as of right, not based on financial need or class’. Sheila Newman disagreed with this philosophy. She wanted to give priority to single parents, young parents, families with a lot of children, disabled parents and disabled children. But she was over-ruled by the others on the working party. Part of the reason for this was because of the shortage of social workers across the city, which meant that lots of children who needed support, hadn’t been identified. But the other part of the objection to the ‘need’ approach was because they didn’t want social workers to be the ‘gate-keepers’ of the service. The Social Services ‘deficit model of parenting’ was to be rejected. Sheila also wanted priority to be given to low income families, but that would have involved means-testing, which was anathema to the Left at the time.

Although Sheila’s approach was rejected, and the children’s centres were to be for all children in the immediate neighbourhood, in practice they did serve the areas of greatest need because the locations. Three of the next four centres (after St Peter’s) were in council estates with high levels of deprivation (Benchill, Burnage and Old Moat). The fourth – Rusholme – was in a very mixed, multi-cultural area. However, these wards (all in the south of the city) were represented by some of the councillors[10] on the Children’s Centres Working Party and this led to some murmuring in the Town Hall about favouritism. Given that the wards in the North and East of the city were mostly represented by right-wing Labour councillors who were hostile to the whole left-wing agenda, it is hardly surprising that those wards were not the first ones to be chosen for the flagship policies.

The small section on Under Fives within the Education section of the 1986 Manifesto made some pretty ambitious commitments, including:

“a major programme of family centres and day nurseries, a nursery education place for all 3 year olds whose parents want one, and an offer of full-time nursery education for all 4 year olds.”

This was developed even further by 1987 and that year’s Manifesto included a separate section on children’s centres which set out a very comprehensive and radical (at the time) programme (see chapter 17). The intention was that if Labour won the 1987 General Election, there would be full coverage across the city, with a children’s centre for every neighbourhood.

The councillors wanted the buildings to be child-focussed, accessible by, and usable by, disabled adults and children which was a completely new concept for the council architects. Even when the concepts had been absorbed and understood, mistakes were still made with things like the height of light switches on the walls and the positioning of door handles. The term ‘barrier free’ was coined to describe these buildings, and this term became a standard one to be used for all future new-build in the city, and then nationally. However, in their zeal for making everything accessible by wheelchair users, some mistakes were made in the other direction, such as the positioning of the sinks which were too low down for non-disabled people to use without getting backache. These were changed over time, making the sinks at different heights.

The drive to develop children’s centres across the city was not as politically controversial as other aspects of the Equal Opportunities policies, although the high building costs and their prioritisation within the capital programme did cause concern for some on the Right. But, because Frances Done had control of the budget as Chair of the Finance Committee, she could ensure that the necessary money was set aside, as not many of the other councillors understood enough about the Council’s budget to be able to challenge her.

Adoption of Policy
In 1986, following extensive consultation with oppressed groups and trade unions, the Council agreed an Equal Opportunities policy to cover all areas of employment and service delivery. Its wide distribution helped to inform employees and Manchester residents that the Council was now committed to taking action to work towards fair treatment for all, whilst recognising that much remained to be done.

However, this key policy of Equal Opportunities wasn’t always carried through outside the Council. The tradition of drinking in city-centre pubs after meetings (both City Party and Labour Group) discriminated against the women who had families. Also, these pubs tended to have a very male-oriented atmosphere and were not the most comfortable environments for women, disabled people or non-drinkers.[11]

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Editorial Comments

This chapter has had a second edit, after I’d finished the four chapters in the Building a World Class City section. Mostly the editing has been typographical and layout, but a few sentences have been split up and altered where they were too long. The sub-headings have been altered in some cases from the previous version. There were no sections with these titles in the original.


[1] The women in the right-wing grouping were Pat Conquest (wife of Gordon), Alison Kelly (wife of Leo), Sally Shaw (who really had more in common with the women on the Left) and Winnie Smith.

[2] Paul Fairweather and Ian Wilmott were two of those elected. Paul worked at the gay centre and was later appointed as one of the officers in the Equal Opportunities Unit; Both later became councillors – Ian in a by-election in 2001 and Paul in 2002.

[3] Editor’s note. I feel this needs more explanation but don’t have any information to go on. Have left it in as perhaps it will trigger a memory for someone who knows more about it.

[4] The local press were also hostile to the measures being pursued on equality for women and black people. The phrase ‘loony lefties’ was regularly bandied about and scathing articles were written about non-sexist, non-racist ‘politically correct’ language. This was happening nationally as well.

[5] Carol Ainscow and Peter Dalton opened Mantos in 1986/87 – the first bar proclaiming ‘proud to be gay’

[6] In 1986, Manchester became the first Council to develop an AIDS policy – to ensure that staff or members of the public with AIDS were not discriminated against. The policy became a model for other local authorities.

[7] With Sally Shaw as Chair. Although allied with the right-wing grouping in the battles of the 1980s, she was politically closer to the Left and very strong on Equal Opportunities. The Deputy on the Sub-committee was a community representative – Mohammed Azad. Azad was thought to be untrustworthy and always seeking to further his own interests, rather than those of the Asian community, but he had enough support to get elected on to the Committee for many years.

[8] The appointment panel was Val Stevens, Marilyn Taylor, Nilofar Siddiqi and Penny Boothman.

[9] This had on it representatives from voluntary organisations involved in play schemes – including the Manchester Adventure Play Association (MAPA).

[10] Benchill – Ronni Myers, Burnage – Marilyn Taylor, Rusholme- John Nicholson.

[11] Editor’s note. I feel this needs an improved summing up paragraph rather than ending on the note about pubs and drinking culture. But this is how it ended.

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