15 Whitehall Departments Named And Shamed For Race Equality Failures

Fifteen government departments and agencies, including Whitehall’s biggest spenders, face the threat of legal action for failing to carry out their duties under race equality legislation, according to a final report from the Commission for Racial Equality to be published later this week.

The CRE, which is to be wound up in two weeks’ time after 30 years of race equality work in Britain, has “named and shamed” the departments involved and urgently written to the Cabinet Office detailing its “deep concerns about the widespread non-compliance” around Whitehall, despite the fact that they have had more than five years to meet standards.

The CRE has asked its lawyers to start legal action against 15 government departments and agencies, including the Cabinet Office, health, education, agriculture, local government, trade and industry, defence, the Home Office and the Foreign Office. Among the few that escape censure are the Treasury, work and pensions, international development and the justice ministry. The CRE says it expects its successor, the Commission for Equality and Human Rights, to continue with legal action. The CRE’s final monitoring report seen by the Guardian cites as one glaring example its own sponsoring agency, the Department of Communities and Local Government, that has not yet collected records on the ethnic background of 58% of its staff.

The CRE says good progress has been made by parts of local government and in the criminal justice agencies, including the police. But Whitehall departments, NHS trusts, further education colleges, district councils and the Olympic Delivery Authority have fallen shortd.

“Overall the findings are disappointing,” concludes the monitoring report. “Small local authorities with limited budgets are meeting their legal responsibilities while some of the biggest spending Whitehall departments are failing to achieve even basic compliance.”

It adds that the failure of Hazel Blears’s communities and local government department to produce a race equality duty “toolkit” has “underlined the degree to which Whitehall has failed to realise the urgency of the current situation”.

The CRE says it is “extremely disappointing” that ministers have failed to deliver and address inadequate policy making across Whitehall, despite repeated warnings in recent years at the highest level. The strong language from the CRE in its dying days reflects long-held frustrations within the organisation over the lack of progress within Whitehall on race equality issues. The findings of the two-year monitoring exercise by the CRE are to be published tomorrow alongside a policy paper giving a final verdict which argues that Britain, despite being the fifth largest economy in the world, is still a place of inequality, exclusion and isolation where segregation is increasing and political and religious extremism is on the rise.

The CRE’s “race manifesto” sets out an agenda for the Commission for Equality and Human Rights, chaired by Trevor Phillips, which is to replace it, and calls upon the government to make an explicit commitment to building an integrated Britain in which all sections of society participate.

The widespread failure across Whitehall to comply with their duties under race relations legislation centre on measures to monitor the ethnic background of their staff and carry out formal assessments of the impact of their policies on racial equality. The duties follow legislation passed in the aftermath of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry.

“In recent months, the commission has felt it necessary to initiate enforcement action against seven different Whitehall departments and agencies in respect of non-compliance of race equality, employment duty returns and in the case of the Department of Health, the failure to systematically carry out race equality impact assessments of new and proposed policies. It is likely that this number could rise in the weeks prior to the closure of the commission,” reveals the monitoring report circulated to commissioners last week.

The CRE paper contrasts the poor results from its past “softly, softly” approach to Whitehall senior managers with the tough line that was taken with tackling racism in the police, prisons and crown prosecution service. “Such formal approaches, whilst initially painful for the authorities concerned, have led to the development of detailed action plans, which sought to increase compliance across the sector.”

It says anecdotal evidence shows that only since the CRE started taking “a robust approach” to non-compliance have public authorities made racial equality work a priority. It claims the role of the government’s own race equality unit has been “to try to prevent us taking action and to attempt to smooth over the situation, rather address the problems we have identified”.