The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is reassuring employers that it has no plans to introduce ethnic quotas or positive discrimination for businesses working with government departments.
A pilot scheme designed to assess the diversity of private firms bidding for government contracts is set to go ahead, although, contrary to rumours in business circles, it does not contain any specific quotas.
A spokesman for the DWP said the plans had been misunderstood, and that the scheme would be used to look at all aspects of suppliers’ equality records.
“There are certainly no plans to introduce ethnic quotas because that would be illegal,” he said. “There are also no plans to amend the legislation that outlaws positive discrimination.”
The pilot schemes, which will initially cover firms working with Jobcentre Plus, the Passport and Identity Service and the Department for Education and Skills, have been developed by the Ethnic Minority Employment Taskforce.
They are designed to provide government departments with more scope to promote racial equality through public procurement, which currently accounts for more than £120bn of public money.
The pilots will require contractors and sub-contractors to provide details of their policies on harassment, equality and diversity training, as well as the proportion of ethnic minority, female and disabled staff they employ. These figures will be submitted at the start of any contract and reviewed annually.
Sally Low, director of policy and external affairs at the British Chambers of Commerce, said the move was simply adding to the already excessive burden of red tape. “Firms will not welcome more bureaucracy when tendering for public contracts,” she said.