25 August 2000
In a swingeing attack on a key aspect of Whitehall's modernisation, Gurbux Singh said the targets, which aim to have 3.5% of ethnic minorities in the senior civil service by 2005, were not challenging enough.
Speaking to Public Finance, Singh said: 'Why was that target set at 3.5%? Firstly, 3.5% is not representative of the population at large, and secondly, given that a large number of the jobs are London-based, it is even less accurate.'
He added: 'In 1998, the senior civil service of 600 people had 1.6% from ethnic minority groups. That's only nine or ten people. Are you telling me this country should be delighted that in five years we are able to recruit only a further 13 posts? Is that meant to be a challenging target? I don't think so.'
Singh, the former chief executive of the London borough of Haringey, said there had never been a more positive, favourable environment in the country and it was essential that changes were made.
With amendments to the 1976 Race Relations Act giving public bodies a duty to promote racial equality, the climate was right for change, he said.
The commission is working with police authorities, the health service, local government and the prison and probation services to develop at least six codes of practice setting out the expectations of the public sector.
Singh wants the codes to have a quasi-legal status, which will be enforced by public sector inspectors. 'I believe inspection is important. We look at value-for-money issues, management probity and financial competence and so we should look at race issues as well. I believe the way public bodies discharge the new duty is comparable, and therefore those inspection bodies should be inspecting race equality issues.'
Singh, who has been in the post since May, has spent the summer working on the CRE's future strategy. He is adamant that his forthright stance is essential but stresses that the commission wants to work in partnership with the public sector.
'You don't achieve sustainable change through conflict and we don't want short-term change. But we do want to see evidence-based performance measures and targets and I don't see it as a burden. It is essential.'