Kerslake calls for permanent secretaries to set ‘clear’ staff diversity targets in departments

Written by Winnie Agbonlahor on 18 June 2013 in News
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Permanent secretaries should set “clear targets for advancing diversity in their departments”, head of the civil service Sir Bob Kerslake said in a House of Commons lecture on Monday. Part of being a stronger civil service, he said, “will be being more diverse at all levels, fully harnessing the talent available to us”.

To achieve this, he added, “myself and every permanent secretary needs to commit – and communicate their personal commitment – to diversity, and set clear targets for advancing diversity in their departments”.

These commitments, he said, will be part of perm secs’ “objectives-setting, [which are] then due a review”. However, his office later told CSW that the targets “won’t appear in permanent secretaries’ objectives, but he’s given them clear guidance on this”.

These pledges came within an “eight-point plan of action”, including recruitment and mentoring projects. While Kerslake expressed confidence that the civil service can be made more diverse, he acknowledged that it doesn’t always have “a culture that welcomes people from outside”.

The civil service chief did, however, point out that the number of minority ethnic civil servants has increased from 5.6 to 9.3% over the last decade, and is expected to rise to “well over 10%”. He added that, while appointments of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) applicants to the Fast Stream have increased from 3.4% in 1998 to 13% in 2011, more work needs to be done at senior level, as only four departments are being run by women, and none by black or Asian people.

The lecture was organised by Keith Vaz MP, who said the Rainbow Foundation – a not-for-profit policy institute working on BAME issues – has three goals before the general election: to have one black or Asian person on the board of every FTSE 100 company; to have one black or Asian person permanent secretary; and to run a ‘Rainbow Index’ of BAME people in individual sectors. He added: “The crucial question is, while we have 26 black and Asian MPs, why have we not made that progress in the civil service? I don’t think it’s a problem with any of us: I think it’s a problem with the system, and we have to fix it.”

Asked how some of these three objectives can be achieved, Vaz said: “We need to go out and headhunt. Unless we do that and be proactive, it’s not going to change.”

Kerslake’s speech may leave some diversity campaigners disappointed, as his emphasis was on leaving the agenda to departments rather than setting targets from the centre. When in February CSW interviewed Jonathan Rees, the departing head of the Government Equalities Office, he called for the publication of a new senior civil service diversity strategy to replace the existing, 2008 version. Rees said then that he’d been “involved in discussions about publishing a new one, and now maybe it’ll be published in the spring. It’s a real concern that, five years on and in a different climate, we haven’t published a new diversity strategy.”

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