I'm black - so what, says prince's aide

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The Independent Online
THE Prince of Wales yesterday hired his first black press aide as a committee of MPs took a sideswipe at a public appointments watchdog for not being radical enough in pressing public offices to hire more members of the ethnic minorities.

Colleen Harris, 42, was poached from the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions, where she was head of the media planning and coordination unit.

Mrs Harris was hired as the Prince's deputy press secretary against tough competition after an interview a month ago with the Prince, who is said to have been impressed by her "bubbly" personality.

Mrs Harris, whose appointment was announced yesterday by St James's Palace, said: "I accept that it's news to have a black member of the Prince of Wales's Household. But I think that's where the news starts and where it ends."

Prince Charles has long complained about the lack of black people in the Royal Household, and the guards patrolling Buckingham Palace, although the palaces do not carry out full ethnic monitoring policies.

The need for public bodies to be pressed to hire more members of the ethnic communities was underlined in a hard-hitting report by a committee of MPs under Rhodri Morgan, the Labour MP for Cardiff West.

It called for "serious changes" in the way that public appointments were made so that they echoed "the interests, concerns and backgrounds of most of the people in the country".

Mr Morgan said that in future the new tests should be applied to jobs which are currently in the lap of the Prime Minister, including the appointment of bishops, judges and university vice-chancellors.

Meanwhile, the committee called for the open advertising of plum jobs which pay little but carry perks or prestige, such as the boards of the Royal Fine Art Commission, the Arts Council, and the National Gallery, or potentially controversial jobs such as on the expert body advising the Government on Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy and Creutzfeldt Jakob disease, and public appointments which could be open to sleaze, such as the Construction Industry Training Board.

The report criticised Sir Leonard Peach, the Commissioner for Public Appointments, for being "unambitious and complacent" including in his work in encouraging ethnic appointments in quangos. It said: "We recognise the [his] efforts in encouraging applications from ethnic minorities; but we recommend that the Commissioner step up his efforts.".

The committee also gave its backing to Frank Dobson's insistence that National Health Service hospital board members should use the NHS and live in the local area. Alan Milburn, the health minister, this week announced the Government had increased the number of black and ethnic minority appointments to the NHS trust boards by a third since Labour won office last May.