Black applicants have less than a one in a 100 chance of being recruited to Britain's Civil Service fast track, figures published for the first time reveal.
Last year the Civil Service took on less than five black people to its "fast stream" recruitment scheme out of over 450 black-African applicants. In contrast, white applicants had a 1 in 20 chance of being accepted into the scheme – a success rate four times higher.
The figures, seen by The Independent, were described as "deeply worrying" by the former Labour Minister David Lammy, who was patron of a mentoring scheme for ethnic minority civil servants. "The people who are recruited into fast stream are the next generation of Permanent Secretaries and if we are not able to recruit young black people into the Civil Service today then it will a detrimental effect long into the future," he said.
Senior civil servants said the figures represented a broader problem of educational under-achievement in the black community. They insisted that the fast stream recruitment process was designed to test "raw" ability and to show no bias in terms of race, sex or background.
Research shows that black students are less than two-thirds as likely to get an upper-second or first as white students and last week it emerged that 21 Oxford and colleges made no offers to black students last year. Merton College in Oxford has admitted no black students in the last five years and just one in the last decade.
At the time, the colleges pointed out that despite their efforts, the reason why so few black people were admitted was because so few achieved the necessary grades to make them eligible for a place. Last year just 292 black children received three As at A-level, compared to 175 at Eton alone.
"The problem we have goes right the way down the educational system," said one civil servant. "This is not about the civil service discriminating against black candidates – it is simply that there are not enough black candidates with the appropriate qualifications."
The Civil Service has been keen to highlight its success in recruiting ethnic minority candidates. Ten years ago 6.8 per cent of the total appointed candidates came from ethnic minorities compared to 10.7 per cent last year. But the detailed new figures suggest that this gain has been made almost entirely by increasing the number of applicants of Indian and Chinese origin. Applicants from those minorities actually faired better than white applicants.
Entry into the Civil Service fast track is one of the most rigorous job application processes in business. Applicants first have to take an online aptitude test – which had a success rate of just 25 per cent last year.
Those who pass that test then have to go to a regional centre where they go through a further practical assessment including sifting through emails to determine which need to be dealt with and writing advice to fictional ministers. This stage has a pass rate of 35 per cent.But Mr Lammy said the problems were not just confined to the application process. "What you find is the black civil servants are less likely to be promoted and succeed than their white counterparts," he said.
"Many struggle to understand why and leave and go into local government which is perceived to be more open."
Last night a Cabinet Office spokesman said: "The Civil Service Fast Stream has a well-established record of improving the diversity of its intake and has run the Summer Diversity Internship programme in support of this.
"The programme offers black and ethnic minority undergraduate students an internship in a government department, enabling students to gain an insight into the fast stream and the Civil Service.
"Some students on the internship also receive additional coaching and support aimed at preparing them for the fast stream recruitment process. We also consistently monitor the adverse impact of each part of the assessment process on different groups and make changes accordingly."