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Councils under pressure to deal with racist tenants

Policies to tackle racial harassment on Scotland's housing estates are expected to be drawn up by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities following fears that racial attacks are being ignored.

Council leaders in Fife and an ethnic minority housing agency are to press Cosla to draft national guidelines for all 32 local authorities. The convention's chief executive, Douglas Sinclair, has promised - in an interview with SoS - he would take up requests for a review.

His pledge came after the publication last week by SoS of diaries written by an Asian woman which detailed nine years of racial abuse on a council estate in central Scotland.

 Several families also raised allegations that local councils and police had failed to investigate the racial harassment they suffered quickly or effectively. Earlier this month the Department of the Environment released tougher policies on investigating racial harassment and evicting racist tenants for English and Welsh councils, but the Scottish Office said it had no plans to produce similar guidelines.

Councillor Angela McCallum, Fife's spokeswoman on social equality, said her own council's policies on tackling racial harassment were patchy because it had just taken over from five different councils, and needed to be improved urgently. She added: "But what SoS's articles show most vividly is that there is a need for a national response to the issues, with the Scottish Office, among others, taking a lead. Fife Council will be writing to Cosla to reiterate the need to develop a co-ordinated response to racial harassment."

 Robina Qureshi, director of the Glasgow-based agency Positive Action in Housing, has urged Cosla to draft a national policy with the help of race equality organisations. She said a similar plea would be made to the Scottish housing minister Raymond Robertson.

 "Existing policies, as the DoE report showed, are continuing to fail to help vulnerable people and this is causing growing concern for those agencies which are trying to help them," she said.

 A spokeswoman for Cosla said it had yet to receive these requests but added: "We're aware of the problem and when and if it's raised with us, obviously we will take it on board.

 If any of our member councils raise it with us, then we will take it forward in our social policy forum."

 Meanwhile, Willie McKelvey, the chairman of the Commons' Scottish Affairs Select Committee, admitted that it had not investigated policies on racial harassment or specific cases of racism in housing estates in its recent investigation into anti-social behaviour in housing.

 McKelvey, the Labour MP for Kilmarnock and Loudon, said it was never considered an important enough issue by committee members.

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