Local authorities fail to break glass ceiling for ethnic staff

Almost half of England’s 411 local authorities still do not have a single person from black and minority ethnic (BME) communities among their top earners.

And the ‘glass ceiling’ stopping BME staff reaching the top in local government seems to be becoming thicker, figures obtained by Personnel Today reveal.

The 2004-05 Best Value Performance Indicators (BVPI), compiled by the Audit Commission and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, show that 189 local authorities do not have a single BME employee in their top 5% of earners, compared with 181 in 2003-04.

The BVPI was created to allow local authorities in England to review and benchmark their performance. The most recent findings show that 60% of local authorities saw a decrease in the number of top earners from BME backgrounds. The report concludes that this particular performance indicator has seen no positive improvement since 2002-03.

Sasha Scott, managing director of consultancy Inclusive Diversity, said the figures were surprising as the public sector was generally perceived as better than the private sector in promoting diversity at senior levels.

“This will send mixed signals to people about whether there really is opportunity [for BME candidates] in local government,” she said.

Joan Munro, national adviser on workforce strategy at the Improvement and Development Agency for local government, defended the local authorities and said they were working hard on diversity. She emphasised the fact that it takes time to move people up through the system.

“This is very important to us – particularly in areas with high ethnic populations,” she said. “If people don’t see they can have a senior career in local government if they are from BME communities, they won’t apply and we could miss out on the top talent.”

Women fair considerably better, with almost three-quarters of local authorities (72%) reporting an increase in female top earners last year. On average, just under a third (30%) of the top 5% of earners were women.

Diversity statistics

  • 0.8% the average proportion of top 5% earners in local authorities from BME backgrounds.
  • 189 the number of local authorities without any BME staff among their top earners.
  • 60% the proportion of local authorities reporting a decrease in the number of top earners from BME backgrounds.
  • 30% the average of top 5% earners in local authorities who are women.

Source: Audit Commission

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