The government has introduced new targets on diversity in public appointments, committing to make sure 50% of all new appointees are female and 14% are ethnic minorities by 2022, in line with the wider population.
The targets were announced today alongside a 10-point action plan, which reveals that departments are to establish a mentoring programme and that government has commissioned a review into the barriers preventing disabled people from taking public roles.
The commissioner for public appointments, Peter Riddell, welcomed the targets and lauded successes on gender diversity over the past year, but said the record was “generally inadequate” for disabled people.
His comments are echoed by the government, which admitted that its “record on attracting disabled people into public appointments is weak” and said it would “work as a matter of urgency to better understand the barriers”.
In 2016-17, 49% of 1,275 new public appointments went to women, up from 34% in 2011-12. Women make up 43%, and ethnic minorities 10%, of the 5,500 public appointees currently in post. Only 4% of chairs are from an ethnic minority background, and only 30% are women.
Historically, there has been a lack of data on diversity in public bodies, with government’s understanding of the situation particularly hampered by the low declaration rate of disabled people (5% of public appointees recorded a disability, well below the 18% of people in the UK’s working age population).
The data released today breaks down progress by department, with the Ministry of Justice, which makes the most public appointments across Whitehall by far, giving 52% of its 778 roles to women in 2016-17. Conversely, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Ministry of Defence gave 33% and 35% of roles respectively to women (out of a total of 33 and 34 roles respectively).
The 10-point Public Appointments Diversity Action Plan was launched today by minister for the constitution Chris Skidmore, who has also established a network of ministerial diversity champions who will promote diversity in public appointments within their remit.
The plan includes five existing measures and five new initiatives. There are plans to develop an Inclusive Boards Charter to set standards for inclusivity for chairs and their boards; to encourage departments to use recruitment firms that are accredited under the enhanced code of conduct; and for the ministerial champions to report on progress in annual departmental plans.
Riddell raised the issue of BAME representation on public boards earlier this year, when he wrote that there was a strong case for joining up Whitehall’s dispersed appointments teams to help share best practice and contacts.
Commenting on the new plan, he said: “Considerable progress has been made in recent years in appointing women candidates; with steady but still insufficient increases in candidates from ethnic minorities; but the record is so far generally inadequate for those with disabilities.
“There is also a need to show that appointments are not just for the London-based and the so-called ‘good and the great’, but that there is a wide social and geographic spread, as there is for many appointments in the NHS, and for bodies involved with prisons and parole.”
Riddell welcomed the targets but said it the key was to ensure more diverse candidates are encouraged to apply in the first place. “This is partly a matter of networks and information but also of support and mentoring for candidates and board members,” he said, adding that success would require sustained will on the part of ministers, departments and public bodies.
Skidmore said: “I am heartened by the increase in women being appointed to public boards but there’s more we need to do across all aspects of diversity. Today we published a Diversity Action Plan which sets out how we will make public appointments even more open and accessible to all.
“We need diverse ideas and perspectives at the helm of our public bodies, so it is vital that public appointees truly reflect the society they serve.”
The target on giving 50% of new public appointments to women was first introduced in 2013.