State-contract firms not required to offer equal opportunities

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COMPANIES bidding to run government services now provided by 500,000 civil servants will not need to have equal opportunities policies, according to confidential advice issued by the Cabinet Office.

In an internal memorandum, Richard Mottram, permanent secretary at the office, said senior officials might seek information about contractors' attitudes, but there would be no stipulations. The letter, to Sir Michael Partridge, the most senior civil servant at the Department of Social Security, states: 'We do not intend to require particular employment policies . . . such requirements will not be included in tender documents.'

Sir Michael had asked how equal opportunities could be safeguarded under the Government's strategy of 'market-testing'. Ministers have registered their intention to contract out as many publicly-funded services as possible.

The Cabinet Office official says that only 'in-house' bids from Whitehall employees would be expected to comply with Civil Service equal opportunities commitments. Mr Mottram argues that EC directives limit the Government's ability to take into account 'non-commercial' matters when assessing a company's ability to provide state services.

John Sheldon, acting general secretary of the National Union of Civil and Public Servants, condemned the 'erosion of employment rights' in the drive to bring in private contractors. 'The Cabinet Office has finally admitted that contracting out is a threat to equal opportunities. Years of slow patient progress in the civil service are at risk to satisfy dogma.'

Women are under-represented in the police force and suffer a serious degree of sexual harassment, Joanna Foster, chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission, told a police conference in Hendon, north London, last night. Of 127,000 officers, only 11.8 per cent were women, she said.