Trevor Phillips’ recent report worryingly pointed out that there are just 10 people from ethnic minority backgrounds among the 289 Chairman, Chief Executives and Chief Finance Officers of FTSE 100 companies.
We should and we must challenge the private sector to do better, as the Government are doing with regard to women on boards. And just as with drives to increase the representation of women in positions of responsibility, I believe that the public sector needs to set an example to the private sector.
But just as with increasing the representation of women in positions of responsibility, this Government are failing to get their own house in order when it comes to harnessing the talents of those from BAME backgrounds, and in many cases are wiping out years of progress made by the last Labour government.
Over the 3 years before the election, Labour increased ethnic minority representation within the civil service by 11%, but since 2010 this progress has been all but cancelled out, and the proportion of ethnic minority staff working at the most senior level – which includes directors and permanent secretaries – has fallen.
Even in London, which has a BAME population of some 40%, just 6% of those in the top jobs share those backgrounds, despite the fact that ethnic minorities are over-represented in entry level and intermediate positions.
This simply isn’t good enough.
We need a culture change in our civil service, away from the stuffy elitism of the past, and towards a modern, meritocratic service which attracts and promotes the best and the brightest, regardless of their background, their skin colour or their old school tie; a service which looks and thinks like the country it serves.
We can’t change that culture instantly, but we can take significant steps to achieve the critical mass required to achieve change from within.
To that end, our Shadow Cabinet Office Minister Michael Dugher set out last week how a One Nation Labour Government will ensure that the Civil Service Fast Stream, which selects outstanding candidates for rapid promotion through the ranks, will be required to ensure that its annual intake comprises at least 18% of successful candidates from BAME backgrounds.
We’ll also expand internship opportunities, successful completion of which will improve the young person’s chances of getting on to the Fast Stream.
These actions alone will mean that hundreds more able people from BAME backgrounds will be in positions of power and influence in the civil service by the end of the next Parliament.
This isn’t about tokenism. We make these arguments because we know that our public institutions – just like our businesses – work better and are more responsive if they reflect and embrace the talents of the communities and the country that they serve.
Of course, it’s only a start, and there’s a great deal more a future Labour government will need to do to shatter the glass ceilings which remain in the workplace, and particularly to open up the professions and well paid jobs to those from non-white, non-privileged backgrounds.
These issues – and many more – are at the heart of Labour’s consultation on a new One Nation Race Equality Strategy, and I hope everyone reading this will contribute their views to this important process, and help shape Labour’s policies in this area ahead of next year’s election.
But it’s an important start nonetheless, and one which demonstrates that only a One Nation Labour Government can and will deliver the changes we need to see to make our society a much fairer and more prosperous one for everyone – not just those at the top.
Sharon Hodgson MP is Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, and represents the constituency of Washington and Sunderland West.