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.

4 Responses to “Civil service complacency on black applicants is not good enough”

  1. Will Straw

    Writing for @leftfootfwd, @DavidLammy argues that civil service complacency on black applicants is not good enough: //bit.ly/gF1m8C

  2. Athena_K

    I’m a civil servant and judging by the performance of risk averse seniors around me, if there isn’t a bias towards people of a particular sex or background, there is a bias towards people who like to tow the line. I imagine the recruitment process weeds out people who don’t give responses that show support for existing power strutures in the civil service. If I was excluded on that basis, I’d probaly be quite pleased. For various reasons, we as black people are less likely to pick up on or be told how to ‘play the game’ – hence more likely to fail their mysterious masonic tests. Oh, and for a change, can we have an article that talks about black overachivement?

  3. Spir.Sotiropoulou

    RT @leftfootfwd: Civil service complacency on black applicants is not good enough //bit.ly/hUASv1

  4. SadButMadLad

    Depends on who you call Black, Lammy. Is this using the fanstatic knowledge and skills that you used on your Mastermind outing to work out that the universities didn’t enrol any blacks – so long as you only included black-afrocaribbeans and not black-british or black-african or black-scots or black-other. And ignoring the fact that as a small proportion of the overall population you will get low numbers of blacks in the colleges, especially when they go for the really hard (but lucrative) courses of medicine and economics.

    //users.ox.ac.uk/~mert0130/successrates.pdf
    //statscream.blogspot.com/2010/12/statistics-not-always-black-and-white.html

    And Lammy also goes for the headline grabbing “no blacks in university” when he should actually knuckle down and do some work to encourage blacks to think about applying to the top universities and do something about the education system that leaves all university applicants needing extra tuition in basic education to get into the colleges.

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