Civil service complacency on black applicants is not good enough

David Lammy MP comments on recent figures revealing that Black applicants to the Civil Service fast track have barely a one per cent chance of being recruited.

Our guest writer is David Lammy, Member of Parliament for Tottenham

Black applicants to the highly prestigious Civil Service fast track have barely a one per cent chance of being recruited. Startling figures – featured in today’s Independent – reveal that less than five black people made it on to the scheme from over 450 black-African applicants last year. In stark contrast, white applicants, were four times more likely to win a place, with a 1 in 20 chance of being recruited.

Senior civil servants have come out denying any bias against black applicants, saying that the problem has more to do with under-achievement in the black community. The Independent reports:

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.

One civil servant is quoted as saying:

“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.”

There is no denying the problems facing black children in Britain, including challenges on the educational system to raise achievement levels. However, the fact remains that 450 black applicants have made it over these hurdles – achieving good 2:1 degrees or higher and applying for the civil service –  and yet are still being treated differently in this recruitment process. For this reason, the focus cannot be shifted from the recruitment process itself. The figures suggest there is a strong institutional bias against recruiting black applicants.

The civil service are quick to contend that there have been improvements in the recruitment of ethnic minorities overall – from 6.8 per cent of candidates ten years ago, to 10.7 per cent last year. But the Independent today points out that this gain has been made by increasing the number of applicants of Indian and Chinese origin, not black applicants.

As I told the Independent last night:

“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.”

These findings have strong parallels with similar failures from another two other elite institutions. As replies to my freedom of information request showed last week, more than 20 Oxbridge colleges made no offers to black candidates for undergraduate courses last year and one Oxford college has not admitted a single black student in five years.

This bias in Britain’s elite institutions is simply not good enough.

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