A few days ago the Government slipped out its most recent Civil Service recruitment statistics. And, for anyone who cares about equality, they make depressing reading.
The report shows that last year if you were white graduate you had a one in 30 chance of successfully applying for a Fast Stream job that puts you on road to one day reaching the very top of the Civil Service. Not great odds – but not bad considering the intense competition for places.
If you were Asian the odds got longer – around one applicant in 50 was successful. But if you were black your chances or being recruited were just one in 134.
Overall last year the Civil Service hired just six black students out of more than 750 who applied. Out of 183 Bangladeshi graduates who applied not a single person was taken on.
And your chances of being accepted for a job if you were white were almost a third higher than if you came from an ethnic minority background of any description.
These figures might not be so concerning if the general trajectory of ethnic minority recruitment was improving. But looking back over the years the progress could best be described as patchy.
In 2006 the chances of a white graduate entering the civil service were one in 29 compared to one in 31 now. By contrast, for ethnic minorities the odds were one in 36 in 2006 compared to one in 43 now. But the bald figures hide another, perhaps more worrying trend. Almost all those black and Asian candidates who were rejected in 2011 lost out without even being interviewed.
They either failed the Civil Services online assessment or the next stage where candidates have to conduct an “inbox” test – prioritising decision-making and processing information.
This would suggest that the very tests which are designed to make the Civil Service entrance process impartial are actually discriminatory. Some say that the test results merely reflect the under-performance of black and Asian children and students throughout the education system. But this is a lazy argument. Because, while the tests may measure current ability, what they what they don’t measure is potential.
A white public schoolboy or girl will have had all the advantages an expensive education can buy. He or she will be familiar with such verbal and numerical reading tests and have practised them many times before. They know the game and know how to maximise their chances of success. The same cannot be said of a bright young Bangladeshi student brought up in relative poverty with parents who don’t speak English. They could well be a better, more representative civil servant than the public school pupil, but at the moment they are not being given the chance.
And figures due to be released later this month by the think-tank The Institute for Government show just how far there is to go. Its annual report will show that ethnic minorities comprise about 9 per cent of the Civil Service, compared with 14 per cent in the UK’s population.
In the senior Civil Service – for which the Fast Stream is a recruiting mechanism – this falls to 5 per cent. Some departments were better than others. The Home Office has 23 per cent ethnic minority staff compared with the Ministry of Defence which has just 4 per cent representation.
There are a few signs that things are improving. The Civil Service now runs an annual summer internship scheme taking in A-level students from disadvantaged backgrounds to give them a taste of life in Whitehall.
The Government has also begun recruiting civil servants as part of the nationwide drive to bring back apprentices into the workplace. The first 100 will start in the autumn and initial results seem encouraging. 16 per cent of those recruited so far have come from ethnic minority backgrounds – higher than the 10 per cent achieved by the graduate scheme.
But that is not enough. The Civil Service has a job to understand and represent all of society and if it is not representative of that society then something is going badly wrong.
A supposedly meritocratic recruitment scheme should not be an excuse for a homogeneous Civil Service.
Let’s put No 10 on the market while we’re at it
Fancy spending a night in the room where Lawrence of Arabia spent hours toiling to produce maps of the Sinai? Or perhaps you’d like to hold your board meetings in the offices where Churchill, Lloyd-George and Profumo once conducted the business of war?
Well now all this can be yours for just £100 million thanks to the Government’s latest attempts to reduce its expensive property portfolio.
Hot of the heels of selling a 125-year lease on the iconic Admiralty Arch building in Trafalgar Square to a luxury hotel group ministers announced at the weekend that they would be selling off the Old War Office on Whitehall as well.
The sale of the War Office, which is still used by the Ministry of Defence, is part of the wider Government strategy to reduce the government estate – by around 16 per cent since so far. Since 2010 the Treasury has had to share it office space with the Cabinet Office, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Northern Ireland Office and UK Export Finance.
Meanwhile, Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department for International Development have both had to downsize and move to new offices saving tens of millions of pounds.
But there is one building that has escaped the chop – which perhaps doesn’t deserve to. It is an 18th century Georgian townhouse with a rabbit warren of offices which even those who work there say is entirely unfit for the business of 21st century Government.
Surely it’s time David Cameron makes way for the Number 10 Hyatt. There must be space in the Scotland Office for him.