Time for public sector HRto meet race regulations

Ethnic minorities were potentially handed a significant boost last week with
the appointment of Britain’s first black cabinet minister.

Paul Boateng has been promoted to Treasury chief secretary, following the
appointment of Andrew Smith as the new head of the Department of Work and
Pensions (see page 3 opposite). Further down the ministerial ladder, David
Lammy – at 29 years of age the youngest MP – was appointed a junior health
minister.

But, in the shadow of the sweeping ministerial changes, the deadline quietly
passed for public sector compliance with the Race Relations (Amendment) Act. A
report by the Audit Office on adherence to the new regulations among local
authorities makes disturbing reading.

The Act places a duty on public bodies to eliminate unlawful discrimination
and promote equality of opportunity and good race relations. However, despite a
long lead-time on the legislation, the report shows four out of 10 councils in
England and Wales still do not have a comprehensive race equality policy.

Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of council workforces are
unrepresentative of the racial mix in their local community and experts warn
the problem is not restricted to local government.

It comes down to leadership. Many of the public sector’s leaders clearly
don’t understand the importance and benefits of diversity – finding it easier
to dump ‘the project’ in the in-trays of middle-ranking HR managers.

There is no ducking this issue. HR directors in the public sector have to
convince their organisations of the need for diversity and deliver change.
Otherwise, the CRE will have to resort to using its new powers to bring about
mandatory change – which would be a backward step in post-Stephen Lawrence
Britain.

By Mike Broad

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