Whitehall focus Diversity targets linked to pay

3 Nov 05
Permanent secretaries' pay will be linked to their success in meeting civil service diversity targets, Cabinet Office minister John Hutton announced this week.

04 November 2005

Permanent secretaries' pay will be linked to their success in meeting civil service diversity targets, Cabinet Office minister John Hutton announced this week.

The provision forms the centrepiece of the Cabinet Office's ten-point plan to make the civil service more reflective of the society it serves. It includes the use of 'positive action' in recruitment practices, such as targeted training programmes – but not positive discrimination, which remains illegal.

The government first introduced diversity targets for the civil service in 1998. While the 2005 targets for posts in the senior civil service held by ethnic minority people have been met, those for women are still almost 6% below the 35% target.

'For the first time these targets are being included in every single permanent secretary's pay and bonus,' said Waqar Azmi, chief diversity adviser to the Cabinet Office.

Speaking to the Common's public administration select committee this week, Hutton said that the ten-point plan was an 'attempt to re-kickstart this process'.

He added: 'What we're trying to do is to make absolutely sure that the diversity agenda is not regarded as the last on a long list of boxes that have to be ticked by permanent secretaries and their departments.'

Point eight of the plan acknowledges the concern raised within some departments – such as the Office for National Statistics – about the impact departmental relocation plans could have on staff from certain ethnic minorities.

Hutton said: 'We have to diversity-proof the relocations exercises. We cannot have the relocation programme having an adverse, or negative, impact on the diversity agenda that we want to pursue.'

The plan was launched on November 1 by Cabinet secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell. He said: 'A truly representative workforce, including at the most senior levels, will enable policies and services to be developed in ways which will result in better outcomes for everyone in society. That is why this must happen.'

PAC slams Northern Irish training scheme

The Commons' Public Accounts Committee has labelled the government's Jobskills programme in Northern Ireland as 'one of the worst-run programmes that this committee has examined in recent years'.

Jobskills, the Department for Employment and Learning's largest training programme, shows 'a quite astonishing catalogue of failures and control weaknesses', PAC chair Sir Edward Leigh said.

He was speaking as the committee published a report on the scheme's operation in Northern Ireland. There was, he said, 'a disturbing level of complacency within the department'.

Leigh added: 'While we readily acknowledge that it has to deal with some very difficult groups of young people, this does not explain the widespread shortcomings in supervision and control.'

The programme, introduced in 1995, aims to raise the skills levels of its participants and make them more employable. It concentrates on those deemed unsuitable for an academic education and is designed to lead to the attainment of National Vocational Qualifications.

By March 2003, it had dealt with some 76,000 young people and 17,000 adults at a cost of £485m.

But the MPs found inadequate management supervision, persistent levels of poor quality training and early drop-outs from the scheme. They said it was 'in many respects, poor value for money'.

Labour's ad spend 'did not misuse funds'

Howell James, the permanent secretary charged with eliminating 'spin', has denied Conservative allegations that the Labour government deliberately boosted public information broadcasts and advertisements in the run-up to this year's general election.

Government figures showed that in the first three months of this year it spent £67m on advertising, compared with less than £41m for the same period last year. The Conservatives claimed this indicated a deliberate attempt to misuse public funds to promote the Labour party.

James told the Commons public administration select committee last week that the disproportionate spend in the first few months of this year reflected a post-Christmas drop in advertising space, rather than political bias.

'The beginning of the year is when best value can be acquired… it's traditionally a more economic time period to buy advertising space,' he said.

The Chartered Institute of Marketing confirmed to Public Finance that advertising rates tended to be cheaper for January and February, but a spokesman commented: 'The ice is a bit thin in March. We start warming up again then.'

James, who was appointed permanent secretary for government communications following the resignation of special adviser Jo Moore admitted, however, that some civil service propriety issues had emerged during the election campaign.

'The main issues that arose were in the build-up to the general election, when [there were] calls from department press officers asking “is this veering into the politics, is this appropriate, should we be involved in this announcement or is this for the party machine?”,' he said.


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